It’s the height of the garden season and an important component to gardening is composting. Don’t let anything go to waste—compost it. Every scrap of fruit and vegetable waste in your kitchen should go into your compost pile. Keep an ice
cream bucket or any other container with a lid underneath or near your sink to put all your kitchen waste in.
Everything (except for fatty, oily things or meat) can go into your compost bucket: rice or noodles (as long as they don’t have any cheese, oil or fat on them), egg shells, coffee grounds, used paper towels, peelings, cores, etc. When your bucket is full, take outside to your compost pile.
Brown and green makes gold
Your compost pile should have an equal mix of what we call Green and Brown ingredients.
Brown ingredients are woody things and are high in carbon. This includes things like: autumn leaves, hay or straw, paper, straw, corn husks, sawdust and dry grass clippings.
Green ingredients are “soft” and “leafy” and are high in nitrogen. This includes things like: fresh grass clippings, tea and coffee grounds, food scraps, garden trimmings and manure (NO pet manure!)
Layer your green and brown materials.
If the pile gets all slimy and smells bad, you have too much green. Correct it by mixing in some straw or dead leaves. If the pile just sits there, doesn’t heat up or shows no sign of decomposition, you have too much brown. The cure is to add some manure or more kitchen scraps to heat it up.
Everything you need to know about composting can be found here.
To tumble or not to tumble?
Some garden centers and catalogs want to sell you a fancy schmancy compost turner or tumbler. They will tell you this will guarantee you wonderful compost in just a few days. It’s kind of more hype than true. A good mix of green and brown is the biggest assurance of quick composting. The only thing that a tumbler does (and it is a pretty important thing) is it makes it easier to turn the compost.
You see, as decomposition begins, the pile heats up. As the decomposition slows, the pile cools down and decomposition comes to a screeching halt. If the pile gets too dry the microbes and critters that aid in decomposition will go looking for nicer environment and decomposition will slow down. The best thing for good composting is to turn it. Turning the compost speeds decomposition in four ways:
1-It ensures that the greens and browns are always nicely mixed,
2-It spreads the decomposing pockets thoroughly so that everything is “hot”
3-It keeps it aerated, which keeps the composting critters healthy and happy and
4-It keeps the pile evenly moist, giving all the composting critters a very nice home.
If you want to save money on a tumbler
You can keep your pile nice and compact (so it stays hot) just by putting it into a cage of some sort like a 3-5′ diameter fence of chicken wire or a 3-sided box made from wooden pallets. (See the link above for ideas on how to cage your compost pile.) Turn it frequently with a pitchfork, at least once a week, to keep it evenly moist and mixing the hot pockets of decomposition with the cooler pockets of the pile. If the pile is getting too dry, add water. The pile should be about as moist as a wrung-out wash cloth.
But if you want a tumbler (and I do! Turning with a pitch fork can be very tiring for this old lady.) you can make your own for a fraction of what the commercially made gizmos cost. There are lots of plans on the Internet.
How to make a compost tumbler (picture tutorial.)
All three of these videos have unique features but the tumblers all work basically the same way:
This guy uses bolts to help break up the material and aerate. Love the stand–it’s so simple.
This is basically the same as the first (minus the bolts), but I like how she used casters to help in turning and no frame needed.
This uses a garbage can–a smart idea for those that can’t find an empty barrel. And nice use of PVC pipe. (Skip to 3:30 to see the compost tumbler.)
It’s not too late to start composting. In fact, right now is a good time to start: your garden is starting to produce a lot of kitchen waste and by this fall, when you finish cleaning up your garden and raking up fall leaves, you will have more than enough good ingredients for a wonderful compost pile. Next year’s garden will love you if you start composting now.