Make Your Own Compost

Maintain soil quality and fertility through composting

Compost is the natural process in which microorganisms convert organic material such as manure, leaves, grass, and food waste into a soil-like material called compost. With compost, the nutrients found in the organic matter are released slowly. Compost is so nutrient-rich, it often meets the needs of a plant for one year. Compost is an excellent substance to build good soil.

Compost improves the structure of all garden soils and increases the drainage of clay soils. Regardless of where you garden or what you grow, compost will make your plants healthier, more vigorous, and increase their flowering and fruiting like nothing else. Simply put, composting is the best possible thing you can do for your garden.

Compost is not only good for your garden but good for the environment. By composting our organic waste, we can save it from being wasted in landfills. Gasper carries several composters, but you can easily make one out of wood and even simple wire fencing. They need not be large, and an area of 3-feet wide, 3-feet deep, and 3-feet tall is considered ideal. Remember, if making one from wood, do not make it airtight. Leave airspace between slats to provide oxygen. When planning your compost bin, consider making three bins, one for a pile, actively filling, the second for a ‘resting’ or actively decomposing, and a third for finished compost that is ready to use in your garden.

The formula to make compost is to add two parts brown material to one part green material. The best and easiest to obtain brown material is shredded leaves. Each fall, run over leaves with a lawnmower or a leaf shredder as whole leaves do not break down easily in the compost bin. Many people save fall leaves to maintain proper compost brown to green ratios throughout the entire year.

Brown compost materials are carbon-rich and include:
» shredded leaves
» shredded newspaper
» twigs
» straw
» crushed eggshells
» non-pressure treated sawdust*
» wood ashes*
» natural tea bags
*Use sparingly

Green compost materials are nitrogen-rich and include: 
» grass clippings
» coffee grounds
» vegetable & fruit scraps
» trimmings from perennial and annual plants
» animal manures such as cow, horse, chicken or rabbits

Things to avoid in your compost include:
» dog or cat feces
» fish or meat scraps
» glossy or coated paper
» chemically treated Items
» ash from charcoal briquettes

A hot compost pile that is sufficiently watered and turned frequently can create compost in as little as a few weeks or months. Being hot means that your compost has enough high nitrogen material decomposing in it that it increases in temperature (ideally 141°F to 155°F), which speeds up the rate of decomposition and can kill weed seeds and disease pathogens.

A cold compost pile requires far less effort but can take up to a year or two to produce useable compost. With this method, you add materials to your pile and then wait for them to decompose. Because the pile does not reach the same high temperatures needed to kill weed seeds and other plant diseases as hot composting, it is recommended not to add weed debris or diseased plants to your cold compost pile.

A program to make municipal composting of food and yard waste mandatory and then distributing the compost free to area farmers would shrink America’s garbage heap, cut the need for irrigation and fossil-fuel fertilizers in agriculture, and improve the nutritional quality of the American diet.

Michael Pollan, Educator