Composting should be one of the easiest things for beginners to do in the garden.
It is a fascinating, adventure, taking old yard and food scraps and letting nature break it down into useable forms for new plants.
The problem with composting is the insane amount of information available on it these days. Once a person gets well and truly hooked on the magic of transforming junk into gardening gold, it can take over your dinner conversations. Mind, no one at the dinner table will get as excited about it as you.
It can also be very confusing when you are new to the scene, to figure out what is actually necessary and what isn’t when met with the fanatical glee of a hot composting convert. Or someone with their first rotating bin. My basic composting tips below will help eliminate some of the noise out there for you.
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So what do you really need?
The good news is, that composting can be very simple with a few easy tips, and if you choose to go down a rabbit hole after that, it’s up to you.
Composting is basically taking leftovers from nature and your household and yard, throwing them in a pile, and letting nature do the work to turn it into lovely, rich soil. Your garden, earthworms, and plants will love. It is the best recycling program ever. When I say composting can be easy, I really mean it. You do not need to shovel and turn and dig if you don’t want to. It will take longer for your compost to break down, but you will still get results just the same.
Basic Composting Do’s
- Use vegetable and fruit scraps. Yes, you can use them all. I’ve seen people being given paranoid compost tips about not using citrus, or whatever. You can add in citrus. Unless you are getting buckets of leftover citrus from somewhere, you’re fine. The average household does not use enough citrus for it to matter.
- Leftover bread, pasta, cereal, grains etc. The only rule here is not to add meat products, or grease to your compost pile. We’ll get into that further down.
- Add in leaves, bits of branches, some weeds, grass clippings etc.
- Do add in farm animal manure, from chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, horses etc. The nitrogen breakdown in these manures will greatly enrich your soil. If you are getting locally sourced manure though, especially horse or cow manure, be SURE to ask if the manure is grazon free. Grazon is an herbicide that is used to kill of horsetails, which are toxic to horses. However it will transfer in their hay and into manure. And that stuff will kill off or half kill your garden. It stays in your soil for years. It’s been a huge issue in the agricultural comminity here in the north. That’s for another post, but just be sure to check.
- Do add in eggshells! You do NOT need to wash them, bake them to sanitize them crush them etc. I’ve seen posts where people do this and are very tired of the extra work. They were told to do it ‘in case of salmonella’. This is one of those case where urban myths can be created by some over-zealous person overthinking things. The truth is, whatever bacteria there might possibly be, is killed off in a short time with fresh air, sunshine, and changes in temperatures. The eggshells will take their time breaking down in the compost and garden into smaller pieces and being utilized into the soil. You can crush them if you wish to speed up the process. But you don’t have to.
- This one is the easiest tip for the most noticeable results: add in animal manure. The easiest to break down without threat of burning your plants is rabbit, goat, horse, and sheep manures. They are quite mild, and aside from making sure you have all the seeds in the manure broken down enough to not have all the seeds growing in your garden, they are very safe. You can also use cow, chicken and pig manures, but they are much higher in ammonia content. You want to make sure they are broken down so that your plants don’t burn, but grow well with this nice rich addition. Hands down your garden will grow better with the addition of manure because of the nitrogen addition to the soil.
Basic Composting Don’ts
- Don’t add in animal waste from humans, dogs, or cats or rodents. The makeup from this waste is very different from using farm animal waste. It can cause a lot of issues for you from parasites and diseases that need a different process to break down. It can be done, but if you want to get into composting your household toilet waste, be sure to do your research and get the proper equipment and process for it so you don’t end up with health issues.
- Don’t add grease, cooking grease, or meat to the pile. Grease will not break down, and will cause issues with your aerobic bacterial process, it isn’t good for your earthworms and can take years to get rid of. A little common sense here though, if you realize that your kid threw the last spoonful of leftover Chinese chicken chow mein into the compost, don’t worry about it. Nature will assimilate and take care of it just fine. You don’t have to go running out to dig it out of your compost. Just don’t go throwing your frying grease out there.
- Don’t go adding hay, at least not before you get a rotating bin or get hooked on hot composting. The seeds need to be composted properly, and for the beginning, it’s not a mess you want to deal with. Every one of those seeds will grow in your garden if not composted long enough, and you will regret your life when you are weeding
One last easy composting tip: You don’t want to have massive amounts of one thing just layered on its own. A good example of this is grass clippings. Fresh grass clippings, while good green manure for your pile, can heat up quickly, you know how it starts getting slimy and can smell a little fermented. Make sure to break it up in there with the rest of the composting materials, for better breakdown, and yes, heat and even fire control in hot weather. That bacterial process in there can heat up fast!
And that my friend, is the basics of a good compost pile.
You really don’t need to do much. I’m going to get into some other tips for composting in another blog post, but I’d like to introduce you to an expert in this field, that I had the great pleasure of interviewing a couple of years back. I did a gardening summit during the lockdown and got to talk with the most amazing people.
However, my interview with Pauline Pears, who retired from 30 years in Garden Organic UK, stands out. I learned so much in this interview, and I’ve been gardening a long time! She has authored at least 9 or 10 books, which I will also insert my link for below, and I hope that all this information helps you tremendously.
Do leave me a comment below and let me know what you learned from this!
You can purchase Pauline’s composting and gardening books over on Amazon, either on your Kindle or in physical form by clicking my link here.
Get your copy of The Organic Book of Compost here, in paperback or on Kindle.