Chances are, learning how to compost wasn’t one of your New Year’s resolutions. But there’s still time to make it one of your Earth Day 2016 resolutions! Below is a quick, eco-friendly guide on how to get started with your first compost pile.
First off, let’s talk about why composting will benefit you and the Earth, while making a great Earth Day activity to do with your friends and family. Although, this eco-friendly gardening practice shouldn’t just be reserved for the holiday, it's a great kick-starter toward a more eco-friendly, green lifestyle.
Typically, the soil around your home is less than ideal. That’s why gardening isn’t as simple as digging a hole, dropping in a seed and watching beautiful plants fill the yard; mother nature is generous, but not that generous. As you’re probably aware, gardening requires a bit more strategy for yielding pleasant results. That’s why we first scout out the ideal area to begin our garden, and then use a mixture of soils and fertilizers to enhance the growth of our plants. But there’s no commercial fertilizer that’s as beneficial to your garden’s soil as pure compost.
Compost provides your garden with all the necessary nutrients for growing healthy, vibrant plants, while also improving the soil’s texture and water retention. The beneficial nutrients are gradually added to the soil with the help of microorganisms over a period of months or years, rather than in a series of large deposits like you get when using commercial fertilizers. This results in the soil gaining the necessary nutrients on an as-needed basis. Since your plants will absorb the nutrients only when they need it, it’s nearly impossible to over compost your garden; while it’s entirely possible, and dangerous, to over fertilize your garden.
Macro-organisms that thrive in compost piles like earthworms and millipedes, air out the soil by burrowing through it and giving it a fluffy texture that’s ideal for water retention. Not only is it better for sustaining the plants in your garden, but it’s also better for your monthly water bill.
Why you should compostFirst off, let’s talk about why composting will benefit you and the Earth this Earth Day. Although, this eco-friendly gardening practice shouldn’t just be reserved for Earth Day, the holiday is good to use as your kick-starter toward a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Earth Day began in 1970 as a means to unite the world in a movement toward a more environmentally conscious future, and today people use it more than ever as an annual reminder to do their part. For many people, that part includes composting.
What are the benefits of composting?• Compost is a natural way to improve the soil quality of your yard.
• Although helpful for poor soil quality, commercial fertilizers don’t compare to the power and efficiency of compost.
• Compost provides your garden with all the necessary nutrients for growing healthy, vibrant plants by distributing them on an “as-needed” basis.
• Compost improves the soil’s texture and overall water retention better than commercial fertilizers, which is not only better for your garden, but also for your monthly water bill.
• It’s nearly impossible to over compost your garden, while it’s entirely possible, and dangerous, to over fertilize your garden with commercial fertilizers.
• Macro-organisms, like worms and millipedes, thrive in compost piles and help break down nutrients essential for plant growth.
How does composting work?Ok, so now that you’ve read up on why compost is good for you and your garden, let’s dive into how this seemingly magical process actually works. One misconception that people often have is that composting is an activity reserved only for experienced gardeners. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the myths, composting is extremely simple and so easy that a microorganism could do it. All bad gardening jokes aside, microorganisms really do do the majority of the work for you.
Compost, as you have probably gathered by now, is made up entirely of organic matter from your yard and organic waste from your kitchen. This organic material is broken down and transformed into usable compost by microorganisms living in and around your compost pile. Essentially, you are regularly feeding these microorganisms as if they were your pets – pets that return the love with a bountiful garden.
So, what can you put into your compost pile?Well, it’s actually a well-balanced mixture that may vary in content each time you add to the compost.
However, the mixture should provide a balance of these four ingredients:
Sources of carbon include brown, fibrous plant materials found around the average yard like, dry leaves, straw, or even paper. When it comes to adding water, using your basic tap water is perfectly fine for composting. Just make sure that the compost material maintains a consistency similar to that of a wrung-out sponge. To ensure that the microorganisms within your compost pile are receiving enough oxygen to continue breaking down the material, you’ll need to regularly aerate it by turning over the material using a rake, or if you have a above-ground compost bin, you’ll need to rotate it ever so often. The nitrogen your compost requires can come from kitchen scraps, over-ripe fruits and vegetables, fresh grass clippings, and even pulled weeds.
How to make your compost pileThere are few ways to create your pile. It mostly depends on the size and location of where you want to put it. But the basic construction consists of an enclosure–either made with wood, wire, or plastic– surrounding an area where you wish to mix your composting materials.
Below are three common examples of compost structures:
1. Compost tumbling or rotating bins
These are above ground composting bins that are used for making batches all-at-once.You simply collect your materials until you have enough to fill the bin, and then rotate it every couple of days. It’s great for gardeners who don’ have a lot of space in their yard.
• Get the Most Out of Compost
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• 10 Ways to Cut Food Waste
2. Wood pallet bin
This is a rather simple four-wall construction that can be placed directly on the ground if you have enough room in your yard. All that you need to do is collect at least four wooden pallets, either new or used, and create a four-walled box around the area where you want to put your pile. Tie the walls together with either rope, chains, or wires in case you want to easily disassemble it in the future.
3. Wire bin
If you’re working in a small yard, and don’t want to buy an above ground compost bin, then consider making a wire hoop bin. All you need is welded, medium-gauge fence wire from your local hardware store (we recommend wire that is at least two inches thick). Measure your desired size and then create a hoop shaped bin from the wire and secure it to the ground. Compost material can be dumped directly into it and the gaps in the wire provide perfect airflow for the process.
Once you’ve constructed your compost bin, now all you need to do is add your gathered compost materials. It’s recommended that you use a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 25:1, or if you are being less precise it’s okay to eyeball it and keep your pile about two parts brown to one part green. Once you’ve combined the materials, all that’s left to do is to turn the pile every so often. If you are expecting a quick turnaround, then you’ll want to turn the pile more often (about every 3-5 days) and maintain an internal temperature of about 110 degrees F.
See, despite the myths, composting is really something gardeners of any skill level can do. Besides being good for both you and the environment, it’s also a great Earth Day project for getting creative with the look of your garden.
• Gardener's Supply Company
• Earth Day Network
• Planet Natural
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