From Trash to Treasure: How to Start Composting

Amanda Flitter

compost binThere’s a reason gardeners call compost “black gold:” It’s easy to make, and can give your garden or potted plants an excellent nutrient boost. On top of these benefits, it’s also a great way to recycle your waste and reduce your environmental impact – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps and yard waste make up to 30% of our trash. These materials are perfect ingredients for composting, so you can take your trash, which would otherwise eat up room in landfills, and turn it into gardening treasure instead.

How do you make compost?

You can start your compost pile outdoors in your yard, or set up a bin indoors if you live in a condo and have limited outdoor space.  If you’re starting your compost pile indoors, look for specialized compost bins and pails at your local hardware or gardening store, or you can try your hand at making your own. If you’re starting your pile outdoors, there are a variety of tumblers and containers to choose from, or you can just start it right on the ground in a dry, shady spot.

Whether your pile lives outside or inside, the steps to make your compost are the same:

  • Add your materials: To make sure your compost breaks down properly, there are some do’s and don’ts about what to add to the pile. Common household and yard scraps that you can toss into your compost pile include the following (some may surprise you!): coffee grounds, tea leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, sawdust, dryer lint, corn cobs, grass clippings, leaves, shrub prunings, shredded cardboard, flowers, straw or hay, and eggshells. Things to not compost include meat scraps and bones (they attract pests); banana peels or orange rinds (they may have pesticide residue); and weeds or diseased plants (they will spread into your garden). If you are growing food, don’t use pet manure in your compost.Whenever you add materials to your pile, spread it out in an even layer, and either chop up or shred large pieces of material. Alternate moist (think food scraps and coffee grounds) and dry (think leaves and sawdust) layers.
  • Keep it moist: Your compost pile needs moisture, but it shouldn’t be soggy. If your pile is outside, rain should be plenty to keep it moist; if your pile is in a container inside, you may need to water your compost occasionally.

  • Turn it: Every few weeks, turn or mix the compost with a shovel. This keeps oxygen flowing so those microorganisms can do their job and break everything down.

How do I use it?

Your compost is ready to use when the bottom layer is a dark, rich color. If you have a small pile indoors, you can get usable compost in as little as a few weeks. For larger, outdoor piles, be prepared to wait at least a couple of months. There a few different ways you can use your gardening gold:

  • Mulch: Spread it on top of plants, shrubs, or trees, just like you would regular mulch.

  • Planting: Mix your compost with soil to create a nutrient-charged base for your plants.

  • Lawn care: Does your yard need some extra nutrients? Place a layer on top of your grass and rake and water it in. At first it may look like your yard is full of dirt, but as the compost settles in it will help your yard grow stronger and greener.

Composting is a simple way to cut back on your household waste, help the environment, and create your own organic fertilizer for your garden. Start your pile in the spring for happy, healthy plants all summer long!

For more information about composting, visit www.eartheasy.com, www.epa.gov, or www.compostinstructions.com.

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