Compost: Breaking it down
Composting is anything but complex. If you aren’t quite sure what it is or how it compares to fertilizer, it’s simple! Compost is organic matter that is decayed to the point at which the nutrients are made available to plants. Fertilizer is a synthetic material that is applied to soils to supply plant nutrients, usually to achieve fast-growing plants. Compost enhances the soil to create beneficial conditions for the plant, while fertilizer directly feeds the plant.
If you have your own garden in your backyard, compost might just become your new best friend. There’s no need to go to the store to buy that big bag of fertilizer when the real deal is right in your trashcan.
Here are a few quick tips to composting at home:
1. Location. Make sure your compost pile or container is on a well-drained and level area. Having your compost pile right by your garden might not be the best idea as it can attract slugs and other garden pests. Ideally, your compost bin will have an open bottom, allowing for bacteria and microorganisms to move into your pile and get to work. There are many ways to contain compost indoors and outdoors – choose the one that best suits you through some research!
2. What’s “in”. The ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio for a compost pile is 30:1. However, when collecting compost ingredients, it’s important to keep in mind that each ingredient contains different levels of carbon and nitrogen within itself. “Brown” materials are carbon-rich and “green” materials are nitrogen-rich. A simple rule-of-thumb for backyard composting is to use a 1-part brown to 1-part green ratio by weight. Here’s a list of carbon- and nitrogen-providing materials.
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags and loose tea
- Green or brown leaves
- Grass clippings
- Wood chips
- Straw and hay
- Small sticks
- Shredded newspaper or other paper
Remember to layer nitrogen and carbon materials, always ending with the latter to keep out the critters.
3. Patience! Eventually, the pile of compost will begin to rot and sink down. Continue to add your new layers of material, and turn the pile as often as you wish to add air. Take finished compost from the bottom of the pile (it will look like soil or mulch when it’s ready) and spread it around your plants and into your soil.
Composting is a sustainable way to nurture your garden. All that organic matter that would typically be sent to a landfill is redirected back into the earth to promote new life and naturally happy dirt. Consider committing to waste reduction at home and try composting!