02/27/13
Backyard resolutions: Get started with composting

Image by Ellen Levy Finch

If you’ve never composted before, the process may seem a bit daunting. The discussion of aerobic and anaerobic processes, turning, watering and building a receptacle may make you feel like home composting is out of your league. The truth is that composting is a natural process that needs little help.

Choosing how to compost.
In a pile or in bin? That is the question. Browsing through a garden store may lead you to believe that composting needs an investment of expensive specialized equipment, but the truth is all you need is some space. Left to it’s own devices, a pile of dead plants, vegetable scraps and eggshells will rot, whether it is in a pile on the ground or in a specialized bin. A pile is a much simpler and less expensive way to start composting. Find a place in your yard with partial shade and good drainage.

That’s not to say you should eschew bins or containers altogether. Bins are a great way to keep composting neat. This could be important if you live in a neighborhood with a home owners association or are concerned with how a compost pile may look in your landscaping. If you have a small lot, a bin or tumbler may be a more convenient way to manage compost. Bins with lids can also prevent pests, like rodents and raccoons, from scavenging your pile.

Building your compost pile.
If the idea of painstakingly layering your compost seems tedious, it’s because it is tedious. Layering is unnecessary. What you do need to worry about is the ratio of green to brown materials in your compost mix. Green materials include fresh cut plants and fresh vegetable and fruit scraps. Brown materials are items like dead leaves, dried twigs and newspaper. Green materials provide nitrogen while brown materials provide carbon and both are important to the microbes that break down materials during the composting process. Instead of layering these items, simply mix them together as they’re added to your pile or bin.

Maintaining your pile.
Turning your compost every one to two weeks is pretty standard piece of composting advice and unnecessary. The point of turning a pile is to keep compost aerated and speed up the process of decomposition. Instead of heaving and struggling with your compost pile, it is much simpler to build in aeration. Using items like straw, branches or cornstalks throughout the compost allows air pockets to form creating a naturally aerated mixture. You can also aerate a compost pile by poking holes throughout the pile with a pole or stick.

What other composting tips do you have?