How to Have an Effective Compost Pile

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Composting is an ideal task for even the most inexperienced DIYer. It’s easy, doesn’t take up much space, reduces your garbage bill, and helps the earth! Plus, it’s useful because it’s the best ingredient your potted plants and garden can ask for. Here’s what you need to know to get started on an effective composting system.

The Compost Bin

A pair of plastic compost bins.

There are as many options for a compost bin as there are ingredients to add. The beautiful thing is that materials will compost naturally regardless of the container, so it really is a matter of preference rather than efficacy. A plastic bin works. If you want a store-bought option, those that rotate make the job easier, but it isn’t necessary to purchase a bin specifically for composting. In fact, any structure that confines the ingredients will do the job. This is where your DIY skills come into play. Keep in mind that it's important the compost has an opportunity to aerate, so make sure your container has some air holes. If you have the space and can embrace the natural look, a loose compost pile works just as well as any other option.

The Ingredients

Composting is about combining natural ingredients that can decompose into fertilizer and be used to refuel the next round of gardening goodness. This means that what you put into the compost pile should be valuable as a component to your future plant food. It’s a balance of brown and green items. We’re not necessarily talking about color here, but rather the type of items. This means you’ll want some brown items like small twigs, toilet paper rolls, paper bags, newspaper, and leaves. Then, make sure you have layers of grass clippings (not too thick), hay, bedding from herbivore animals, pine cones, and other natural items. Lastly, you’ll want to take advantage of your food waste. The compost pile loves egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit pits, veggie stalks, banana peels, onion skins, nut shells, grains, tea, and basically any non-animal, natural product. Note that larger items will take longer to break down.

The Location

The backyard composter will be most efficient with the proper ingredients and a high amount of heat. So, location is an important factor in order to increase the temperature of the compost. Although it will eventually break down in the shady side of the house, placing your compost in direct sunlight is best. For reference, think about a tree decomposing in the forest. It happens without any interference from us, whether it’s in the shade, in direct sunlight, or under water. Even though it might take a very long time, there is no wrong location, so use what space you have.

The Care

Someone dumping a bucket of yard waste into a compost pile.

Again, the pile will eventually break down on its own, but if you want rich compost for your garden each year, make sure the process is running efficiently. It needs to be in a warm location. Additionally, it needs air circulation so it should be stirred, spun, or shaken periodically in order to introduce air into the experiment. Make sure to cut or shred branches and other large items so they can break down more efficiently. Make sure the mix receives water now and then, too. While maintaining a hot box is best, adding moisture to the mixture will promote the proper balance for decomposition.

Things to Avoid

Do not add any animal products including fat or dairy, plastic, foil, and other non-organic materials. If it did not come directly from the earth, it should not go back into it. Also, avoid tomato plants that have any disease, weeds, and grass clippings that contain pesticides. Remember that even though it will break down into dirt, these items will eventually go into the next round of food you produce and eat.

Composting is an effective way to cut costs on waste disposal as well as on the purchase of fertilizer at the beginning of the planting season. In addition to money savings, it’s rewarding to know that you’ve made nutrients for your garden on your own! Getting started is as easy as taking an inventory of your space and supplies. Just monitor your measure of each ingredient and watch nature do her thing!