What Is Compost?
Compost is a natural fertilizer filled with the nutrients that plants commonly need to grow healthy and strong. They are made from decomposed matter that has been sanitized by exposure to heat and time. In addition to helping curb the need for chemical fertilizer, compost also helps retain moisture in the soil.
Properly formed compost is a dark brown or black color. It is coarse and crumbly and doesn’t look like any of the original ingredients added to the mix because it has been appropriately broken down.
According to the United States EPA, compost is made up from about 20 to 30 percent food and yard scraps—things that households commonly throw away.
People compost for a variety of reasons. Some reasons include saving money on water bills, since compost naturally retains moisture better than the average soil. Gardeners who use compost also purchase less soil amendments and fertilizers. Composting also sends less matter into the landfills, which may lower garbage bills and lessen the burden upon landfills.
How to Make Compost
Composting doesn’t require any fancy materials or supplies. While some gardeners have a more complex compost system, such as a box, bin, or crate, you’ll really only need three basic ingredients.
Three Basic Ingredients for Compost
- Brown matter: Twigs or branches and dead leaves
- Green matter: Mostly comprised of kitchen waste (e.g., fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, shredded newspaper, wood chips, hair or fur, fireplace ashes, and tea bags or coffee grounds)
- Water: Plain old water
These three basic ingredients can merely be layered upon one another in an out-of-the-way area if you have the space, as well as the need for a lot of compost.
Steps to Make Compost
- Begin collecting organic material such as leftover fruit and veggie scraps. Avoid adding any greases, meat or dairy products though, as these will emit an unpleasant odor and likely attract pests to your compost heap.
- Collect brown matter, cutting larger branches for better layering.
- Select an out-of-the-way location that’s close to a water source. It’s best to place a compost area that is dry and partly shady.
- Mix lawn clipping with other previously collected green matter.
- Layer brown and green matter alternately until you have used all your ingredients. Aim for layers about 4 to 6 inches deep. Place larger brown matter items such as branches near the bottom layer of the heap.
- Moisten the matter between layers, but don’t make it soupy. Too much water will make it difficult for the layers to break down.
- Optionally, cover the area with a tarp to help keep the moisture levels up.
- Turn or mix the layers of the compost to help keep the temps up. Higher temperatures help kill off seeds that may potentially sprout up in the heap, and will also aid in the decomposition process. Turning the matter also increases aeration, which allows the naturally occurring microbes to breathe.
- Effective compost heaps will not emit an odor or attract pests. Depending upon the amount of matter you start with, the weather, and how often you tend the heap, a compost heap could take anywhere between weeks to two years to properly form.
- According to Gardening Know How, compost heaps should be between three to five feet high and wide. Outdoor compost heaps any smaller or larger than three to five feet “may not heat up efficiently” or might “hold too much water.”
- U.S. EPA: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
- Home Composting Made Easy: http://www.homecompostingmadeeasy.com/whatiscompost.html
- U.S. Composting Council: http://compostingcouncil.org/admin/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Compost-and-Its-Benefits.pdf