Composting step by step

Composting is simple. Even though you find many subtleties and various approaches, getting things to rot isn't really that mysterious. Follow these simple steps and you're on your way:

1. Make a pile of the right stuff — half green, half brown.

Gather up some green stuff and some brown stuff. They can be lawn clippings (green) and dry leaves (brown), freshly cut hedge clippings and wood chips, or any similar mixture of materials. The greens supply the nitrogen and the browns kick down the carbon. The right combination, which turns out to be about half of each, makes for a good, hot pile that breaks down quickly. Using too much green material makes the pile stinky, and using too much brown material slows the activity in the pile to a crawl. The more you chop up the material, the faster it composts. Using food scraps is okay if you cover them with leaves or shredded paper to keep the flies out; meat and other animal parts attract vermin and are best left out. For sure don't add dog or cat poo; they can harbor wicked diseases.

Don't waste your money on "compost starters" or other gimmicks that purport to make the process happen faster. The heavy lifting in the composting process is accomplished by a crack team of bacteria, fungi, enzymes, and earthworms; most of them are present in the material you feed into the pile. If you want to speed the process, add a few handfuls of topsoil, manure, finished compost, fireplace ashes, bloodmeal, or bonemeal.

2. Add water to your pile.

Once a week, soak the pile down until it's moist but not saturated. Cover the pile with a tarp or close the lid on the composter to keep the heat and moisture in.

3. Turn the pile weekly.

Turning with a pitchfork speeds up the decomposition process.

4. Harvest your compost when it's dark brown, looks kind of like coffee grounds, and has a wonderful sweet/earthy fragrance.

You can screen it to sift out any coarse pieces or just use it as is.

5. Use your compost at your next planting.

Dig a handful of compost into the soil when planting a new plant (you don't need much). Spread it on the surface of planter beds as a combination mulch and fertilizer (the nutrients leach into the soil during overhead watering or when it rains). Incorporate it into potting soil.

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Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

Have you always wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn't know what to do? Here are the best tips on how to become a true and envied organic gardner.

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