Compost Helps You Smash Your Garden’s Crop Yield…Get Started!

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What is Compost?

This is simply the decayed organic matter — the final product you get after decomposing food scraps and other yard wastes.

Benefits of making organic fertilizer

  • It’s cheap and easy to make…free if you opt for the open compost pile.
  • It’s a great way to introduce (and constantly nourish) the beneficial organisms to your soil, which then help with aeration, break down the organic matter for plant use, and ward off plant disease.
  • Helps reduce landfill waste.

The benefits to your garden include the following:

  • Improved soil structure
  • Feeding your soil with more organic matter implies more air pockets for nutrients and water to effectively circulate without much struggle.
  • Improved soil structure also means reduced chances of erosion.
  • Improved moisture retention
  • Enriching your soil with compost helps enhance its water-holding capacity for longer periods, thus minimizing the need for frequent irrigation. In the end, saving you time and money.
  • Helps balance your soil pH, bringing it to the ideal range for maximum nutrient availability to plants.
  • Improved nutrient levels

What to compost and what to avoid

Not everything should go into your compost — some can be poisonous — and so be careful with what you use. We share some of the guidelines offered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Here is what to compost

  • Fruits and vegetable scraps (rich in nitrogen — use together with dry carbon items).
  • Animal manure from herbivores — grass eaters like horses, cows, sheep, goats, Llamas, AND pets such as hamsters and rabbits (contain nitrogen — an excellent source of Greens)
  • Paper towels (should be free of chemicals)
  • Cardboard (contains carbon — shred the material to make spreading easier)
  • Crushed eggshells (Are neutral)
  • Coffee grounds and filters (contains nitrogen — good for your compost)
  • Fireplace ashes (sprinkle to prevent clumping)
  • Grass clippings (rich in nitrogen — add in thin layers to avoid clumping).
  • Corn stalks (contains carbon — if possible, chop them up since they decompose at a slower rate. You can also include the cobs).
  • Tea leaves (nitrogen-rich)
  • Green comfrey leaves (contain nitrogen — are excellent compost activator).
  • Table scraps
  • Leaves (contains carbon — shred to speed up decomposition).
  • Pine needles (rich in carbon — it’s acidic, therefore, moderate the use).
  • Newspapers (contain carbon — avoid the ones with colored ink. Do not use glossy papers).
  • Chicken manure (rich in nitrogen — and therefore, an excellent compost activator)
  • Yard trimmings (not treated with pesticides)
  • Old houseplants (contain nitrogen)
  • Hay and straw (carbon-rich)
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Wood chips (rich in carbon)
  • Sawdust pellets — ensure they’re clean; should not have any traces of oil residues from the machine or cutting equipment.

What to avoid and why

  • Meat, bones, fish, or poultry scraps (they attract pests)
  • Peach peel, banana peels, and orange rinds (may have pesticide residues)
  • Dairy products (pest issues)
  • Charcoal ash or coal (contain harmful substances — to plants)
  • Pet manures (dog or cat wastes might contain germs or parasites)
  • Black walnut leaves (contain substances harmful to plants)
  • Diseased plants or perennial weeds (you might, unknowingly, spread diseases or weed seeds when laying your compost)

How to compost

Before you kick off the process, ensure you have the right compost bin that meets your needs.

Compost bins

Also known as compost digesters, these standard compost bins are ideal for gardeners with limited space and would mostly be composting kitchen scraps and some yard waste.

Compost tumblers

Compost tumblers are the most efficient version of the enclosed bin.

Trenching

Also known as “trench composting,” trenching is a composting method whereby you bury food scraps and other organic wastes directly into the garden soil.

Now, onto the composting process.

Ensure you put in the right mix of ingredients to yield quality compost.

Step by step guide: How to make compost

  1. Begin by placing a 10 cm layer of straw or twigs (coarse material) at the container’s bottom. This helps with drainage and air circulation.
  2. Add roughly equal amounts of your compost materials in 15cm layers, alternating dry and moist.
  1. Turn the contents over once every month to enhance aeration and speed up the entire process.

Note:

To speed up the composting process, consider filling the whole bin at once. A big stack has adequate mass to effectively generate the much-needed heat for decomposition, as compared to when you add in the materials in small portions at a time.

In the case of an open compost pile…

  1. Consider starting the compost on bare soil — to allow the beneficial organisms (including worms) to do their aeration job.
  2. Set down straw or twigs first, some inches deep, to help aerate the pile and aid drainage.
  3. Bring in the compost materials. Add them in layers, alternating the dry and moist (green and brown).
  4. Add your green manure. You can use grass clippings, clover, wheatgrass, or any other compostable nitrogen source. This helps activate the compost pile while also speeding up the process.
  5. Water the compost occasionally to keep it moist.
  6. Cover the pile to help retain the heat and moisture and keep it from being soaked by rain. As you may already know, compost should be moist and not drenched. You can use plastic sheeting, wood, or carpet scraps to cover.
  7. Using a shovel or pitchfork, turn the pile every few weeks to keep it aerated.
  8. You can opt to mix in the new materials rather than layering them when adding them to your already established compost pile. And that is if you have plenty of coarse material.

Mixing, just like turning, helps improve aeration.

The Open Compost Pile is ideal if you reside in an area with adequate outdoor space (think of that acreage in the rural set up), where you can easily compost your kitchen scraps and lots of other yard waste.

A few facts about worm bin

It’s a simple and more convenient way to dispose of (in this case, compost) kitchen scraps, especially if you reside in an area with no outdoor space.

Hints for healthy fertilizer

1 — Decide on the perfect spot to set your compost bin

Consider a level, well-drained, partially shady, or sunny spot in your garden. This ensures adequate heat distribution and makes it easy for any excess water to drain away.

2 — Invest in a compost bin that meets your needs

Where you live, what you intend to compost, and the budget at your disposal are just some of the crucial items to consider when buying a compost bin.

3 — Put only the right materials in your bin

You can refer to the “what to compost” list above and use it as a guideline when you’re ready to start composting.

4 — Strike the correct balance

A healthy fertilizer (compost pile) should have more Carbon than Nitrogen, which should be in the ratio of 2/3 to 1/3.

5 — Ensure adequate aeration

If you’re doing the “no turn” method, then arm yourself with the right turning tools. Turning your compost pile regularly helps to mix up the contents, enhance aeration, and eventually leads to faster composting.

6 — Allow the worms to do their job

Simply site the bin on grass or soil for the worms to access your organic waste. They’ll do the vital part of breaking it down into a beneficial end product, just as we saw earlier.

Should you add or not add worms to your compost?

The truth is that worms are just part of the many organisms that help with the decomposition process, as there are lots of other microbes, bugs, and fungi that also contribute to the crucial rotting process.

Adding worms to your compost

Not all worm species prefer the environment inside a compost bin, ensuring you get the right type of worms.

How to use compost in your garden

Now you’ve made this wonderful organic material… what to do next?

1 — Use it to mulch

The natural absorbent and dense nature of compost make it a perfect tool for enhancing your soil’s moisture retention ability.

2 — Incorporate into your garden beds in the Fall or early Spring

If you have sandy or clay soil, you may want to improve its structure and nutrient retention ability. And so, add 1–2 inches of compost to your garden bed when planting.

3 — Spread it out on your new or established lawn

Most homeowners prefer Fall as the best season to plant and carry out maintenance on their lawns owing to the conducive weather it presents.

4 — Use it to top-dress your garden beds

Twice a year, sprinkle the compost along your garden’s soil surface. It helps improve water absorption and cases of runoff.

5 — Feed your container plants

As you care for your potted plants, ensure you feed them with some screened compost to enhance growth.

6 — Use it to make a potting mix

Screened compost makes good potting soil that keeps your container plants nourished.

7 — Mix it with your local soil when planting shrubs or trees

In the planting hole, create a uniform mixture of soil and compost, then put in your plant and water.

pansies

Here are some composting problems you may experience; and how to fix them

1 — The pile isn’t composting…

If you notice your compost isn’t breaking down — too woody, consider adding more green materials such as grass clippings, well-rotted chicken manure, or comfrey leaves. These are great compost activators.

2 — The compost is too dry or too wet

When there is too much moisture, the pile contents become slimy and smelly. Too little moisture, on the other hand, slows down the composting process.

3 — Unpleasant odors coming from the compost pile

There are two ways to fix that: first, ensure you don’t put meat scraps or bones into the compost.

4 — The pile is heating up

No worries. It’s just the large community of microscopic organisms working through your compost.

5 — Lots of fruit flies attracted to your compost

Fruit flies are harmless. However, they can be a nuisance. To keep them away, cover the bin with a lid.

The Takeaway on Making Organic Fertilizer for Your Garden

Ready to take on the process? Follow the above tips to ensure a constant supply of organic fertilizer to keep your garden nourished.

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