It’s Not Garbage, It’s Compost

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The secret to a beautiful garden may be closer than you think. Compost, organic materials such as household food scraps and yard waste, has myriad benefits to soil as well as to the environment.

Most people may not realize they have all the materials necessary to build a compost pile right in their own home. A hot compost bin can be made from a plastic garbage can by drilling holes on the bottom and sides with a paddle drill bit.

Composting can be done two ways, indoor and outdoors, but both produce luscious nutrients for your garden. Composting is when you combine natural products that contain nitrogen and carbon, for example, old leaves for the carbon base and grass as your nitrogen base. The keys to building good compost—besides ingredients—are turning it at the right times and getting the ratio correct. The carbon and nitrogen ratio in compost is 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen.

Only three products are needed in order to build your own compost pile: browns, greens and water. Browns, also known as the carbons, can be found in sawdust, shredded paper, newspapers without color, egg shells, cardboard and more. Cardboard, sawdust and wood chips are some of the best ingredients since they are high in carbon levels.

The green ingredients provide nitrogen and are the most abundant. Green ingredients can be grass clippings, old tea bags, coffee grounds, flowers, banana peels and apple cores, as well as other fruit and vegetable pieces.

Even though the ingredients are easy to get, building a compost pile is even easier to mess up. Some common mistakes people make are by over saturating the compost from rain. Compost bins should also never be directly in the sun because it can dry out.

While there are a lot of ingredients available to make your own compost, there are some items that you should not use. Meat scraps can rot, attract rats and can infect your compost. While cow, horse and chicken excrement work very well in your compost, dog and cat feces do not because these animals eat meat, which can introduce parasites into your pile.

After the first week, make sure you turn your compost because it will add oxygen and spread out the microorganisms. After the first week, you should only turn it every three weeks and do so for at least three months or longer until your compost has fully broken down.

Ideally, compost should range from 120-170 degrees Fahrenheit and can be checked with a compost thermometer that can be placed directly into the pile. However, if your batch of compost does not heat up, it could be from lack of oxygen. A quick turn of the compost usually solves the issue.

Unfortunately, outdoor composting can be labor intensive and there is very little room for error due to the ratios and temperatures. If a batch of compost gets too hot, it can kill off important microbes. If a batch of compost starts to smell foul, it can be turned but if not done correctly, you need to start over again.

Indoor composting is more manageable since it is usually done in small metal cans that can fit on a counter or under your sink. Sometimes people will do vermicomposting, which is when worms are put in the compost bin along with shredded newspaper and vegetable scrap at least once a week. Vermicomposting is good for beginners because it can be done throughout the year, no turning is required and you don’t need to worry about ratios.
After about two months, the worms will have decomposed the food into a vermicompost, which is ready to feed to your garden. When harvesting vermicompost, you should move the worms to one side of the bin by placing food to attract the worms and then harvest.

Since composting takes time, there are ways to expedite the process by purchasing compost accelerators or by special compost bins. Compost accelerators can either come in tablet form that can be mixed with water or in a powder that can be dusted on the compost. Tumblers work well because they provide your compost with a perfect turning to circulate oxygen without the mess.

Whether you decide to create your compost inside or outside, with patience and dedication, your garden will thank you for growing beautiful plants, fruits and vegetables.

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