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Friday, March 22, 2013

Composting, How to Start

"Composting is an excellent way to avoid both wasting useful, natural resources and creating environmental problems, while at the same time producing a high quality and inexpensive soil amendment." (
The other day, a friend and I were discussing our gardening plans, both of us eager to get out there and work in the dirt, when we touched briefly upon composting. I got to thinking later that, while I've posted a few times on the topic, I've never actually talked about it in any depth. And if you, like my friend, need to improve your soil, this is the easiest, least expensive way to do it. Plus, it's environmentally responsible.

As a preface, let me say that when we moved into our home, nearly three years ago, a section of the backyard had obviously been used at one time or another as a garden. Also obviously, it had been quite a while since it was actively used for that purpose. some point, someone took pains to improve the soil and we now reap the benefit. However, after three years of regular, year-round composting, our soil is even better than it was. Case in point: In the summer when the ground is warm, you can go into our garden, pick any place, dig up a shovel-full of dirt, and find at least one fat, juicy worm in there--if not a few of them. That, my friends, is garden-friendly soil! I love seeing those worms.

So here's the easy, no-cost way to compost:

  • Pick a spot in or near your garden plot, out of the way of foot traffic, and dig a hole. Smaller is better, as this site attests, but you want it big enough that you won't have to dig a new hole every week.
  • Collect kitchen scraps in some kind of small bucket in your kitchen (I use a milk jug with the top cut off). Nearly everything from your kitchen that you would normally throw away can be composted--excluding any meats, bones, fish, or animal fats. These waste products attract cats, rodents, and other pests you don't want in your backyard! (For additional items to leave out of your compost, see this article at Not to mention, these waste items would make your compost pile pretty smelly.
  • When the bucket is full, take it to your compost hole and dump it in.
  • Every week (or more often, if you're better at remembering than I am), shovel some dirt over your compost materials. The microorganisms in your soil will greatly aid in the breakdown of your compost.
  • Regularly turn your compost with a shovel to mix it up and add oxygen, an important part of decomposition. If you live in an area that is very dry during the summer, adding water to your compost every week or so also helps to break it down more quickly.
  • Once your compost hole is full, completely cover it with dirt and let it sit a few weeks to a few months. Meanwhile, dig a new hole.
It's that easy!

For more efficient composting, the above-linked site points out that mere kitchen scraps isn't the ideal ratio of green to brown compost material. So be sure to add some leaves if you have them, too. Another amazing thing to add, that most people don't even think about, is human hair. If you give your family haircuts, one of the best things you can do with those hair clippings is take them out to the compost pile. They're full of nitrogen, which can be hard to find in other compostable items. (See my post on composting hair here.) Of course, if you have rabbit droppings, those are an ideal, slow-release fertilizer, also full of nitrogen that could be added to your compost pile, in moderation.

Note on composting seeds: Before we got chickens, we put all kinds of seeds in our compost pile, since they were kitchen scraps that we didn't eat (such as cantaloupe and watermelon seeds). Either we didn't mix our compost often enough or the sun didn't bake the seeds hot enough to kill them, because we ended up with all kinds of volunteer plants in our garden last summer. It was fun to see which vegetables and melons we ended up with, but that was enough surprises! I am glad we can now give our chickens all the seeds we don't want and spare that experience this summer.

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