Composting 101

Barrel

During my undergraduate studies I had an instructor who said something in class that has forever stuck with me. A pile of compost gets so hot, one could cook a turkey in the middle of it. I can’t remember what course that was, or the instructors name, or even what he looks like. It’s odd, the things that stick in our brains. This tid-bit probably stuck because I was horrified at the thought of cooking a turkey in the middle of a pile of trash. I never intend to try, but there you have it.

About a week ago, I finally got things started in my compost bins.

You can read about my DIY compost bins here.

Today I am going to share with you what I’ve learned through hours of internet research on the topic. I’m not the expert, not even close, but decomposition of organic materials is a process that occurs without instigation in nature, so I figure I can’t mess this up too badly.

Speeding up the process, from that which occurs in nature, requires a simple recipe:
Air + Water + Green Material + Brown Material = Compost

Air and water are easy and require no explanation, but here’s the low down on “green” & “brown” material:

Green: these materials are high in nitrogen and provide protein for the micro bugs that ultimately turn this waste into amazing nutrition for the garden.
Typical green materials include:
fresh grass clippings (green)
kitchen scraps (fruit, veggies, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc)
green leaves
leftovers from the garden

Brown: these materials are high in carbon and provide the micro bugs energy to do their job.
Typical brown materials typically include:
brown, dry leaves
brown, dry grass clippings
straw
sawdust
shredded cardboard and paper

It’s important to keep the mixture damp (not wet), and the ratio should be about 3 parts brown to 1 part green.

People often think “yuck, compost piles have got to be stinky, and messy, and gross”. When done right, there is little to no odor. I can see where this thought process comes from though – have you smelled a barrel of fresh grass clippings that sat for a week through hot temperatures, and 3 rain storms? It’s putrid!

If your compost pile is smelling like a pile of rotting garbage, it means that your brown to green ratio is off and you need to add more brown, stat! It may also mean that your mixture is too wet. Check that you have adequate drainage  in the bottom of the barrel.

There are also some materials that should NEVER be added to your compost, those include:
meat, fish or animal fat
ashes from the BBQ grill (you can add ashes from a wood burning stove, but in very small amounts)
dog and cat feces (you can add manure from grass fed animals…cows, chickens, etc.)

I think a good rule of thumb is that anything that came from the garden can go back in via compost. Anything meat, or waste from meat eating animals is a no-no.

So…here’s what my plan of attack has been, and will be, for this first batch of compost in the making:

I collected a barrel of brown materials while doing yard work. I have read over and over that the best brown material is dried leaves. There were quite of few of those hung up in the planters around our new home so I took advantage and put them in a barrel that goes back in the shed (keeping it dry) to be used in this composting process.
I will collect green materials throughout the week as I prepare meals. There are always the parts of the fruits and veggies that end up in the trash…peels, skins, cores, etc. I will also keep used coffee grounds (filter included), tea bags, and egg shells. To prevent having to run outside to the compost bin after every meal preparation, I am keeping a large bowl with a lid in the fridge. Once full, I will run it out.

I started the bottom of my compost bin with a layer (about 3 inches) of brown. I lightly watered it down with the hose, then added a layer (about 1 inch) of green material. I will continue this process until the barrel is full.

The holes and brown material in the barrel will help with the flow of air. Additionally, you will need to ‘turn’ your compost every so often. I am going to wait until my barrel is nearly full before I get too crazy about this. While the barrel is filling I will give the mixture a stir with a pitch fork every month or so. Once it is full, and by full, I mean about ¾ of the way so there’s room for movement when stirring, I will knock that barrel over and roll it around the yard every 2-3 weeks. Keep in mind that once the barrel is “full’ you will still need to keep it moist so it will require a bit of watering down every so often.

Making compost takes time. How much? I’m not sure. It depends on a lot of things – weather (i.e. heat), how small/large the materials in the pile are, the right mix of brown/green, and the list goes on and on…

I’m not in a rush because I know this first batch won’t be ready in time for spring garden compost addition anyway. That needs to happen in the next few weeks. This first round is really an experiment.

Anyone inspired to try their hand at composting? I will continue to share my journey, but would love to know if anyone else is along for the ride in making their own! Composting is so good for your garden, potted plants, planters and it is also the environment. I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘tree hugger’ but I take a lot of pride in the fact that with our recycling and composting efforts we are sending only 1, not even full, bag of trash to the landfill, weekly. Impressive, huh?

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3 responses to “Composting 101

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