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The Joy of Gardening

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A Guide to Composting

I have never had a compost pile before. But it seems a shame to keep throwing away all of this material. How do I start? Is there anything special that I need to do? Are there any materials that I should not be adding? Are there step by step instructions available?


You are exactly right; it is a waste not to put your kitchen and garden waste to good use. I cannot stress enough the importance of applying compost to your garden and amending your soil. The benefits are endless and long-lasting and your plants will thank you for it. First you should find out whether you have any local ordinances regulating that you require an enclosed, rodent-proof compost bin. Composting can be carried out in an enclosed bin or an open heap, both are highly effective. Both systems have their advantages; open heaps allow for a lot larger compost pile, and bins might be more aesthetic, contain odors and keep out larger pests. A compost heap should not smell or attract rodents if it is well-kept. What should go in your compost heap? All fresh produce scraps from your kitchen, coffee grinds, lawn clippings, leaves and many weeds. What should be avoided? All meat, dairy, cooked or processed foods, dog/cat food, cat litter, bread, and any weeds that either already have seeds, or those that will continue to form seeds even after being picked. Creating a good compost heap is a little like cooking, it requires practice and tweaking. It is essential to get a good mix of wet (green) to dry (brown) materials as this will ensure optimal moisture content. If the heap sits too dry it will not turn over rapidly, and if it is too wet it will become heavy and smell. It is a good idea to have a pile of leaves nearby so that every time you add something fresh to your heap you can cover it with leaves. This will keep down smells, deter any rodents and ensure a good green/brown ratio. One essential maintenance task which many people try to avoid is turning the heap. Depending on the size of the compost pile this can be a major undertaking. If you are put off by the thought of having to turn a large heap I would suggest having a small bin. The turning serves to get air into the compost which is an integral component to the composting process. Very small bins are the most user-friendly and can be turned by cranking a handle. Another key factor is temperature; you need heat for your compost to turn over. Heaps should rise vertically and not be thinly spread; otherwise these will not reach sufficient temperatures. To help achieve high temps try adding additional water between layers and have structured sides to your heap so it can get sufficient height. Bins can help by absorbing the sun depending on the color and the exposure. You will be the best judge of what your needs and wants are so you can determine what would be most suitable for you. Happy composting!

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