Monday, March 19, 2012

Compost - It's hard to screw up.

A picture of my current batch of compost as I was turning
it.  It should be ready in the spring.  The chickens LOVE
it when I turn the compost exposing so many delicious bugs!

Compost is a key ingredient to a nice healthy garden especially if you don't want to spend a lot of money on amendments and fertilizer.  It is also a stellar way to deal with yard debris, kitchen scraps and chicken poo.

There are entire book on how to make compost - what ratio of debris should go into it, how it should be stored, put together and how frequently it should be turned.  But the thing about compost is that it will break down regardless of how you handle it.  I completely respect and maybe even envy people who have the right mix of ingredients, who turn their compost often and have a hot steamy pile of compost that breaks down quickly - just not enough to become one of those people.  

When I was seventeen I learned from a master gardener in Texas how to deal with yard debris by simply throwing scraps into a circular cage made of wire fencing and rotating the pile now and again.  That is still how I do it and every year I have beautiful healthy compost that takes a little less than a year to break down.  The ingredients to my compost are simple:
  • Kitchen Scraps - All veggie/fruit peals and scraps, coffee grounds, crumpled egg shells, egg cartons now and again.  I never use meat, dairy or processed foods. 
  • Yard clippings and scraps from bushes, trees, flowers and veggies.  I tend to keep out the weeds although I understand if the pile gets hot enough it kills the seeds - maybe I just don't have enough faith in the heat and I really don't like weeds.  I think I'm just being paranoid. 
  • Chicken poo from when I muck out the coop or droppings pit along with some sawdust from the broken down wood pellets inside the coop. 
There is much ado in books and online about the right balance of nitrogen to carbon ingredients when it comes to the compost pile.  "Green" or nitrogen ingredients are wet ingredients like fresh grass clippings, fresh yard debris, manure, most kitchen scraps like vegie and fruit debris, coffee grounds etc.  "Brown" or carbon rich ingredients are the things like dry grass, dry leaves, egg shells, sawdust, straw etc.  It feels complicated to me when I start thinking I need to go for a particular carbon to nitrogen mixture.  Experts recommend 30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen.  To be sure of that ratio you would have to take the particular nitrogen and carbon content of each ingredient in your compost and figure out the big picture from there.  I know it's not brain science but it's also just compost.  I think if you just put the things you have already to feed your compost just making sure that you have some dry ingredients but not too many, you will be fine.  If your pile is stinky you have too much nitrogen - green ingredients, add some brown.  If it is just not decomposing quickly at all you have too much carbon - add more fresh yard debris and kitchen scraps.

I promise you as long as you have wet and dry ingredients and not a ridiculous amount more of either your compost will break down in a reasonable time.  It's called nature - you can't prevent the breakdown of organic material!  

Even though they are cool, you really don't need giant plastic containers or store bought compost bin to do something that will occur naturally anyway.  If you want a plastic compost bin great - just make sure it at least came from recycled material!  If you don't want to bother with even a wire cage for your compost, don't.  Just make a pile out back!  There is no wrong way to compost!
Two piles that have sat all winter about to be turned into one pile. 

The final turn before my compost is ready to be mixed into my garden this spring or summer!
Here I am using an old kennel for my wire bin.
Tips for composting-

1.     I keep my kitchen scraps in an old ice cream tub with a lid on it in my kitchen.  When it gets full I take it outdoors.  I have a friend who hides hers in a nice canister you would normally use to store flour or coffee.  She got hers used so there were no detrimental effects on the earth on her compost's behalf.
2.     I usually establish a new compost pile in the winter and add to it all spring, summer and fall.  This pile is ready early the following summer. I only turn it about two or three times in a year’s time.  Then for the rest of my scraps I start a new pile in winter and continue the cycle.  Usually I have three roughly 3x3 piles which shrink down considerably until I compile them to one or two wire bins.  This leaves an extra bin to start fresh compost in.  You will get your own rotation down. 
3.     I'm in the Northwest where keeping the compost moist is not an issue.  In fact, I may experiment with covering it next winter.  If you do not get very much rain where you are or if it gets real hot in the summer, you should certainly water your compost now and again.  It breaks down much quicker when moisture is involved. 
4.     If you can get your hands on a pile of red worms do it!  My neighbor gave me scoopful from her compost and I wasn't sure they would hang around since my compost wasn't fully enclosed but they did.  I have a ton of worms in the compost that significantly helps break the organic matter down. 

This is my "new" pile that I will add to while I wait for the other piles to become ready.
 This compost will not be complete for about a year. 


  1. We have our compost bins in plastic trash cans with holes drilled in them and it works really well. It's amazing how many things you can compost too!

  2. I like your trash can idea! I remember seeing a picture of your beautiful compost! I bet the trash can keeps it nice and hot!

  3. If anyone is interested in the trash can composing check it out -