Weekend Project: Composting: Why and How to Start

Elyse, the Development Director at Mobile Baykeeper, has been composting for about a year. Read her story to learn why she decided to start composting, and to see how easy it is for you to start too!

Elyse's Compost Bin

Why do I compost?  I could cite statistics that say landfills are running out of room but the truth is that in my house, composting means fewer trips to the outside trash can, less stink when I open it to put trash in, and the feeling of accomplishment because I am making free, healthy dirt for my patio garden!  An even better reason is that compost creates the basis for a wonderful garden; it holds in nutrients, water, and air; and it protects plants from many diseases commonly found in untreated soil.

For several years, I have planted a patio garden of tomatoes and herbs and every year I would head to the nearest big box store for potting soil.  Not a huge cost but why pay when I could create my own dirt? And so the idea for composting began.

I started by learning what you can and cannot compost.  Pretty simple really….if it is a plant, compost; if it is animal, do not.  You can check the links below for more complete lists of what you can compost but in general successful composting is about layers of green and brown.

The next decision was where to place the compost bin.  I picked a sunny spot in the backyard that has easy access to the kitchen.  What bin?  Well, that was a birthday splurge.  I purchased a black plastic, bottomless box type with a tight fitting lid and doors at the bottom where I should be able to easily scrape out my “black gold.”

Location is more important than the type of bin in my experience.  If it is easy to get to all year, then you are more likely to fill it and continue the care and feeding of your compost.

After the first few days of just salad trimmings scattered at the bottom of the bin, I was thinking, at this rate I would never make enough compost for even a small potted plant.   A few days later when we mowed the lawn, I wondered if all of that grass that just filled up the bin would ever break down.  However, in less than a week, my full bin had already reduced by half.  I was on my way to making my own rich dirt. I have now started collecting the coffee grounds from our office kitchen; they make a wonderful addition to my compost!

I am still learning more about my compost pile every single day. Just yesterday I learned that the fire ants that I thought were problematic were actually a sign that my pile may be a bit dry, and are also introducing new strains of fungi and bacteria to the compost. Wonderful!

I hope you’ll join me in learning and experimenting with home composting. It is very rewarding and has so many benefits, both for my garden and for the environment.

Together we can make a difference, one yard at a time.

Composting: The recipe!

Composting is like making good corn bread, dry ingredients, wet ingredients, stir gently and add generous amounts of love.

Dry ingredients = Brown layers like fallen leaves, hay & straw, shredded paper, sawdust.

Wet ingredients = Green layers are grass clippings, coffee grounds, fruit & vegetable peelings, weeds and plant cuttings.  As I mentioned before what you put in should be plant materials.

Compost needs the right amount of water and should feel like a wrung-out sponge; when you squeeze it, you might get a drop or two of water.  Too much moisture will cause the “cooking” temperature to fall and can make the pile smell.  Too little water slows decomposition and can also prevent the pile from heating.  Aeration is also important and is achieved by turning over the contents of the compost bin and by adding pockets of air.  Paper towel and toilet paper cardboard cores are perfect additions for those pockets of air.

Here are some good resources for filling and managing your compost bin:

75 Things You Can Compost But Thought You Couldn’t

Gardening Guide: Composting

Composting Guides and Resources

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2 thoughts on “Weekend Project: Composting: Why and How to Start

  1. Pingback: Water Wednesday: 10 Ways to Conserve at Home | Make-A-Difference Month

  2. Pingback: Weekend Project: Patio Container Gardening | Make-A-Difference Month

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