Composting – An Easy How-To Guide

Composting is a really easy and beneficial practice for any homestead or property. It’s a great way to utilize the inedible portions of fruits or vegetables, as well as scraps and bits that don’t make it into your dish. (For another use for vegetable scraps, check out our post on DIY: Stock!

Your compost pile can be as small or large as you like, and in addition to giving these scraps new life, you are building your very own supply of natural, organic fertilizer! I have been using our own compost as my only form of fertilizer and nutritional support for my garden beds for years now.

So how do you get started? What are the rules of composting? There are a lot of questions and concerns that surround composting. To help answer some of these questions, I have compiled the following tips and advice to get you started on your compost adventures.

A Basic Guide to Composting

  • Ground contact works best –  If you can keep a compost pile that is directly on the ground, this will yield the best, fastest results with the least amount of work. We just dump our goods in, and let the worms do the rest!
  • Determine size and location – Bigger isn’t always better, and with compost, this is true. Unless you are looking to fertilize huge garden beds, you don’t need a massive pile. Ours is medium in size, about 4′ by 3′. It is surrounded on three sides by a rock wall, and the fourth side is open so we can get in to dump and work as needed. Your compost pile can be very small and still yield amazing results! You just need to have enough soil to handle the amount of raw materials you will be adding to it.
  • Keep a “Compost” container in your kitchen –  This can sit on your counter or under a sink, wherever you prefer. But having a container to dump your scraps into easily, ensures that you actually do it. We reuse old plastic coffee containers that my husband “rescues” from the recycling bin at his job. (He may or may not be hoarding them in the garage.) These work great because the snap on lid keeps the odors in, and is easy to open and close. We empty ours when full, which is about every 2-3 days. I will empty it sooner if I know I have a lot of egg shells in there, as those can get pretty gross quickly. Always rinse your container out before bringing back inside, and make sure you keep your container labeled “For Compost” so no one happens upon the compost when looking to make the morning coffee!
  • What goes in to the compost bin? – You should only compost raw fruit and vegetable scraps, rinds or husks. Raw beans or legumes are also OK. Don’t add any processed food, oils or meats. Many of these won’t break down properly, and meat scraps will smell as well as attract local predators.(You can reuse those bones and scraps by making your own Stock!)
  • Compost Must-Haves –  There are a few key items that are especially beneficial to your compost. Egg shells, banana peels and used coffee grinds are really wonderful for your compost, and if you eat eggs, banana or coffee, these are items you should definitely be putting in your compost container. These help to replenish the calcium, potassium and nitrogen in your soil, some very necessary nutrients for a healthy garden. They also balance each others’ PH.
  • Work your pile in halves –  In Woodford, we manage half of the compost pile at a time, and alternate annually. Last year, we dumped in the left half, leaving the right side to finish breaking down 2016’s composting goods. We just mixed the right side up, and it is ready for adding to our garden this year. Once it’s empty, we will start dumping on the right, and let the left side decompose all year so it will be ready fertilizer in 2018.
  • Utilize your chickens/poultry –  If possible, allow your chickens to scratch around in your compost. We recently took to letting ours out, and they have done an amazing job tilling in the soil and all the random bits. Chicken poop is also great fertilizer, but because of it’s high natural acidity, it cannot be added directly to a garden bed. Allowing it to decompose and turn into a proper manure with your compost is a wonderful way to use up the “unwanted” part of chicken keeping!
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