What Compost Is
Compost is basically a collection of organic waste (food and plants) that decomposes over time. The result is an extremely nutrient rich soil called humus which is great for using in your garden.
How Composting Works
The material in your compost pile will be broken down by microbes, worms, snails, insects and fungi. The process is usually initiated by bacteria and as the organic material is broken down it creates heat which attracts more microorganisms to participate in the process.
The Essentials of Composting
- Browns – This is your source of Carbon. You need carbon because it provides energy for the microorganisms breaking down the organic matter. Leaves and other dry plant trimmings are a great source of browns.
- Greens – This is your source of Nitrogen which serves as proteins for the microorganisms breaking everything down. Scraps from your kitchen are a great source of greens.
How To Use Your Humus
It will take a few months for the organic ingredients you’ve added to your compost pile to decompose, for most this is a continuous cycle of adding, mixing, and harvesting. You’ll know your compost is ready when it is dark and has a soil-like texture. This broken down material is called humus. Humus from your compost should be used as a fertilizer for you home garden. Plants love this stuff!
Resources to Help You Get Started:
Step by Step Guide to Composting
Nitrogen-Rich Materials for Your Compost Pile (Greens)
from the Dummies Guide to Composting:
Kitchen scraps: Leftovers from the kitchen are excellent additions to the compost pile. You do the environment a big favor too by adding the following scraps to your compost:
- Coffee grounds and used filters
- Condiments and sauces
- Cut flowers
- Fruit pits
- Fruit rinds and cores
- Nut shells
- Shells from shellfish
- Stale or moldy bread and grain products
- Tea and tea bags
- Vegetables (raw or cooked)
Grass clippings: Grass clippings turn slimy and smelly if left in big piles or layered too thickly, so mix them up with brown materials or spread them out to dry for a few hours before mixing them into your heap.
Leafy plant trimmings, spent flowers, herbs, and vegetables: When your garden plants have finished producing for the season, pull them out, chop or tear them into smaller pieces, and toss them into the compost pile to recycle their nitrogen content. The same goes for leafy trimmings from landscape shrubs and trees.
Weeds — foliage only: A healthy crop of weeds, although annoying, is a fine source of nitrogen. Return those nutrients to your garden where they belong by composting your weeds.
Pet bedding: Small pets such as hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, and gerbils are bedded down with newspaper, hay, and/or shavings, and this used bedding is a very useful addition to the compost heap.
Carbon-Rich Materials for Your Compost Pile (Browns)
from the Dummies Guide to Composting:
Dry leaves: Dry leaves are probably the easiest brown ingredient to work with for a beginning composter because they’re already smallish pieces of organic matter that are easy to shred into even tinier pieces if you choose. They’re also in abundant supply in most regions and turn into fairly decent finished compost (called leaf mold) all by themselves.
Woody plant trimmings: Shrubs, trees, palm fronds, dead perennial stems, Brussels sprout stalks, and dried cornstalks all fit into this category. Break, chop, and shred this material as much as possible to speed decomposition.
Paper: Shredded paper is great for worm bin bedding. Other paper products that are easy to shred or tear include used paper towels, envelopes, paperboard (unwaxed cereal and food boxes), paper towel and toilet tissue rolls, and newspaper.
Cardboard is slow to compost, and the thicker corrugated stuff is hard to tear, although it works well for soaking up excess moisture in wet ingredients. Tear it and mix it with fresh manure or grass clippings, or lay it on the bottom of a pile if you’re composting in a damp region.
Pine needles: The resinous coating on needles can take a while to break down, so use them in limited quantity. If you have a lot of pine needles, you can easily stockpile them and gradually mix them in with other organic materials. (Pine needles also make attractive and effective mulch spread around garden beds.) Don’t worry about pine needles’ acidity unless you have a lot of them: Small amounts have minimal effect in your compost pile or soil.