Home Composting – Garden Gold From Kitchen & Garden Waste

What is Compost? Is it different from mulch?

Why Make Compost?
How to Start: An Enclosed Bin

How to Start: An Open Pile

How to Start: Sheet, Lasagna, Worm Composting

Plant Materials to Use: Moist Greens = Nitrogen
Plant Materials to Use: Dry Browns = Carbon
Materials to Avoid:
Meat, bones, dairy, fat, oil, feces from meat-eating
animals, diseased or pest-infested plants,
herbicide-treated plants, weeds and seeds
Putting Materials Together: Small Pieces,
1 Part Green to 2 Parts Brown

Constructing A Pile in Layers: 3x3x3
Coarse brown base, small green, small brown,
dirt or compost or potting mix, moisten, etc.
How Long Will It Take?

When Is It Done?
Troubleshooting
How Do I Use Compost In My Garden?
Benefits sandy soil, clay soil, soil structure; nutrients
are more immediately available to plant roots;
resulting in healthier plants that more easily
resist diseases and pests
A home composting system can be as simple as gathering together bits and pieces from meal preparation and mixing with dried leaves from the garden, or as complex as processing measured ingredients in specific steps and exacting timeframes. It’s up to your choice of how you spend your time and effort to achieve your desired results. Here are some considerations.

What is compost? Is it different from mulch?
Compost is decomposed organic material that you can no longer tell what its original ingredients were. Mulch is also of organic material but may be partially decomposed or not at all, and is generally laid on top of the soil.

Why Make Compost?

  • Composting continues Nature’s recycling plan. A diverse pile of kitchen and garden waste will eventually decompose; but when materials are purposely chosen, mixed together, kept moist and aerated, the process accelerates with beneficial microbes, bacteria, and fungi doing the work.
  • According to CalRecycle (https://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/homecompost), “Home composting is an effective and efficient way to dramatically reduce your waste stream at home, while doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint. Organic material sent to landfill creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to the negative impacts of our changing climate. By making compost, you are creating a valuable soil amendment that you can use to benefit your landscape, boost plant growth and sequester carbon.”

How to Start

  • Home composting can be accomplished in an enclosed bin or tumbler, or in a pile that’s either free-standing or corralled with wire or palettes or netting.
  • Sheet or Lasagna Composting entails layering materials on top of a garden bed and letting it incorporate shallowly into the soil as it decomposes.
  • Vermi (Worm) Composting requires a dedicated container and can be accomplished indoors. It’s best used when only a small amount of kitchen waste is available; and close attention to the worms’ needs is required.

Plant Materials to Use

  • Moist Greens = Nitrogen = fresh grass clippings, green leaves, vegetable and fruit trimmings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells, weeds, vegetable plants; and manure from herbivorous animals like chickens, turkeys, cows, horses, goats or rabbits.
  • Dry Browns = Carbon = dry grass clippings, small twigs, dried leaves, hay, shredded paper, wood chips, sawdust (not from treated wood).
  • Size = Smaller pieces, especially of dry brown material, will decompose more quickly.
  • Proportion = For quickest decomposition, use about 1 part nitrogen/green materials to 2 parts carbon/brown materials in each layering.

Materials to Avoid
To reduce the potential for pests or odors, avoid animal products like meat, bones and dairy; anything with fat or oil like baked goods and salad with dressing; feces from meat-eating animals like dogs, cats, and humans; diseased or pest-infested plant matter, herbicide-treated grass or plants, perennial and seed-bearing weeds, and hay (which has weed seeds).

Constructing a Pile

  • Plan for a compost pile that is three feet wide by three feet deep by three feet tall. Smaller piles may not achieve sufficiently high temperatures to kill bad organisms and weed seeds. Larger piles can achieve composting temperatures more easily, but need more frequent turning to ensure optimum oxygen supply.
  • There’s no need to purchase a “starter” or inoculant. The plant material, soil, and previous compost can serve this purpose.
  • Start with a 4-6″ base layer of coarse dry brown materials to allow air penetration under the pile.
  • Add a 2-3″ layer of green materials.
  • Add a 2-3″ layer of smaller-sized brown materials.
  • Top with a dusting of dirt or unscreened, mature compost or used potting mix.
  • Wet the pile, making sure that the edges as well as the center are equally moistened.
  • Continue making additional layers in this order and end by sprinkling the top layer well.
  • During hot and dry weather, you may have to moisten the pile more frequently between adding more layers.
  • During wet weather, you may need to cover the pile to shed off rainwater.

How Long Will It Take?

  • Composting can be accomplished with more effort and faster results, or with less labor and a longer finish that may not kill all weed seeds or pathogens. The time of year and size and type of materials will also affect the rate of decomposition. Depending on these variables, the process may be completed in a month or in a year.
  • A “hot” pile requires turning of all materials and remoistening the pile every couple of days. Finished compost may be available in a month or two.
  • A “cold” pile that is left to decompose by itself with no turning may result in much material that doesn’t break down and must be screened out when the pile is deconstructed. Finished compost make take 6 months or a year.

When Is It Done?

  • Compost is ready when its texture is uniform, dark brown and crumbly with a pleasant, earthy aroma, and you can’t recognize any of the original materials. Any remaining chunks of material can be screened out and put back into a new pile.
  • There is no “expiration” date for finished compost. You can let it continue to “cure” before applying to the garden.

Troubleshooting

  • If the pile gets too wet or dense with food scraps, it will smell bad, and composting will slow down or stop altogether because the beneficial microbes – bacteria and fungi – decomposing the ingredients need oxygen to live and have died. Add more carbon/brown material, turn and fluff the pile with a pitchfork to incorporate air.
  • If the pile is too dry, decomposition will stall, and ants may set up nests. Add more nitrogen/green material, turn and remoisten the pile; ants will move elsewhere.
  • If insects, rats, racoons appear, there may be meat or fatty foods in the pile. Remove these items from the pile, turn the pile and remoisten to increase temperature; use an animal-proof bin.

How Do I Use Compost in My Garden?
Compost is an excellent amendment for soil of any type. Its benefits include:

  • Helping sandy soil to retain water.
  • Helping clay soil to drain better.
  • Improving soil structure friability.
  • Nutrients are more immediately available to plant roots.
  • Healthier plants can more easily resist diseases and pests.

What is Compost? Is it different from mulch? Why Make Compost? How to Start: An Enclosed Bin How to […]

What is Compost? Is it different from mulch?

Why Make Compost?
How to Start: An Enclosed Bin

How to Start: An Open Pile

How to Start: Sheet, Lasagna, Worm Composting

Plant Materials to Use: Moist Greens = Nitrogen
Plant Materials to Use: Dry Browns = Carbon
Materials to Avoid:
Meat, bones, dairy, fat, oil, feces from meat-eating
animals, diseased or pest-infested plants,
herbicide-treated plants, weeds and seeds
Putting Materials Together: Small Pieces,
1 Part Green to 2 Parts Brown

Constructing A Pile in Layers: 3x3x3
Coarse brown base, small green, small brown,
dirt or compost or potting mix, moisten, etc.
How Long Will It Take?

When Is It Done?
Troubleshooting
How Do I Use Compost In My Garden?
Benefits sandy soil, clay soil, soil structure; nutrients
are more immediately available to plant roots;
resulting in healthier plants that more easily
resist diseases and pests
A home composting system can be as simple as gathering together bits and pieces from meal preparation and mixing with dried leaves from the garden, or as complex as processing measured ingredients in specific steps and exacting timeframes. It’s up to your choice of how you spend your time and effort to achieve your desired results. Here are some considerations.

What is compost? Is it different from mulch?
Compost is decomposed organic material that you can no longer tell what its original ingredients were. Mulch is also of organic material but may be partially decomposed or not at all, and is generally laid on top of the soil.

Why Make Compost?

  • Composting continues Nature’s recycling plan. A diverse pile of kitchen and garden waste will eventually decompose; but when materials are purposely chosen, mixed together, kept moist and aerated, the process accelerates with beneficial microbes, bacteria, and fungi doing the work.
  • According to CalRecycle (https://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/homecompost), “Home composting is an effective and efficient way to dramatically reduce your waste stream at home, while doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint. Organic material sent to landfill creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to the negative impacts of our changing climate. By making compost, you are creating a valuable soil amendment that you can use to benefit your landscape, boost plant growth and sequester carbon.”

How to Start

  • Home composting can be accomplished in an enclosed bin or tumbler, or in a pile that’s either free-standing or corralled with wire or palettes or netting.
  • Sheet or Lasagna Composting entails layering materials on top of a garden bed and letting it incorporate shallowly into the soil as it decomposes.
  • Vermi (Worm) Composting requires a dedicated container and can be accomplished indoors. It’s best used when only a small amount of kitchen waste is available; and close attention to the worms’ needs is required.

Plant Materials to Use

  • Moist Greens = Nitrogen = fresh grass clippings, green leaves, vegetable and fruit trimmings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells, weeds, vegetable plants; and manure from herbivorous animals like chickens, turkeys, cows, horses, goats or rabbits.
  • Dry Browns = Carbon = dry grass clippings, small twigs, dried leaves, hay, shredded paper, wood chips, sawdust (not from treated wood).
  • Size = Smaller pieces, especially of dry brown material, will decompose more quickly.
  • Proportion = For quickest decomposition, use about 1 part nitrogen/green materials to 2 parts carbon/brown materials in each layering.

Materials to Avoid
To reduce the potential for pests or odors, avoid animal products like meat, bones and dairy; anything with fat or oil like baked goods and salad with dressing; feces from meat-eating animals like dogs, cats, and humans; diseased or pest-infested plant matter, herbicide-treated grass or plants, perennial and seed-bearing weeds, and hay (which has weed seeds).

Constructing a Pile

  • Plan for a compost pile that is three feet wide by three feet deep by three feet tall. Smaller piles may not achieve sufficiently high temperatures to kill bad organisms and weed seeds. Larger piles can achieve composting temperatures more easily, but need more frequent turning to ensure optimum oxygen supply.
  • There’s no need to purchase a “starter” or inoculant. The plant material, soil, and previous compost can serve this purpose.
  • Start with a 4-6″ base layer of coarse dry brown materials to allow air penetration under the pile.
  • Add a 2-3″ layer of green materials.
  • Add a 2-3″ layer of smaller-sized brown materials.
  • Top with a dusting of dirt or unscreened, mature compost or used potting mix.
  • Wet the pile, making sure that the edges as well as the center are equally moistened.
  • Continue making additional layers in this order and end by sprinkling the top layer well.
  • During hot and dry weather, you may have to moisten the pile more frequently between adding more layers.
  • During wet weather, you may need to cover the pile to shed off rainwater.

How Long Will It Take?

  • Composting can be accomplished with more effort and faster results, or with less labor and a longer finish that may not kill all weed seeds or pathogens. The time of year and size and type of materials will also affect the rate of decomposition. Depending on these variables, the process may be completed in a month or in a year.
  • A “hot” pile requires turning of all materials and remoistening the pile every couple of days. Finished compost may be available in a month or two.
  • A “cold” pile that is left to decompose by itself with no turning may result in much material that doesn’t break down and must be screened out when the pile is deconstructed. Finished compost make take 6 months or a year.

When Is It Done?

  • Compost is ready when its texture is uniform, dark brown and crumbly with a pleasant, earthy aroma, and you can’t recognize any of the original materials. Any remaining chunks of material can be screened out and put back into a new pile.
  • There is no “expiration” date for finished compost. You can let it continue to “cure” before applying to the garden.

Troubleshooting

  • If the pile gets too wet or dense with food scraps, it will smell bad, and composting will slow down or stop altogether because the beneficial microbes – bacteria and fungi – decomposing the ingredients need oxygen to live and have died. Add more carbon/brown material, turn and fluff the pile with a pitchfork to incorporate air.
  • If the pile is too dry, decomposition will stall, and ants may set up nests. Add more nitrogen/green material, turn and remoisten the pile; ants will move elsewhere.
  • If insects, rats, racoons appear, there may be meat or fatty foods in the pile. Remove these items from the pile, turn the pile and remoisten to increase temperature; use an animal-proof bin.

How Do I Use Compost in My Garden?
Compost is an excellent amendment for soil of any type. Its benefits include:

  • Helping sandy soil to retain water.
  • Helping clay soil to drain better.
  • Improving soil structure friability.
  • Nutrients are more immediately available to plant roots.
  • Healthier plants can more easily resist diseases and pests.
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