Green Tip #9 Tips for Successful Composting

Mother Nature having confined me to the indoors by blessing us with 2 days of non-stop rain, a good way to pass the time (and avoid cleaning house!) is to bring you some composting tips. I've shown you how to inexpensively build a composter from a simple plastic garbage can. Now I'd like to help you get started in building your compost pile. Making compost from household and yard scraps is a great way to save money and diminish waste in the landfills.

Before I get into the details, I'd like to give Kudos to my friend Randy who built the compost tumbler shown. It has a hinged, locking door for adding material and obtaining the finished product and is set on rollers for ease of "tumbling" the compost mix. What a nice surprise! I'm now creating a new pile, with less strain on my back, while my garbage can compost "cooks"!

OK, I know, I'm blithering. It's one of my known qualities, which may have much to do with my love of writing. There I go again... getting side-tracked! Back to the point.....




The components

In order to build a good compost pile, you need to add both brown and green materials. Brown materials, such as dried leaves, straw, paper, cardboard, shrub clippings, crushed up egg shells, tea bags and corn cobs, provide carbon, which aids in the "heating up" process necessary for decomposition. Green materials such as, vegetable and fruit peels and stems, grass clippings, manure (poultry, sheep, horse and cow), coffee grounds, plant cuttings and even feathers and hair provide nitrogen.

All ingredients should be shredded or torn into small pieces before adding to the compost pile, to allow for ease of the decomposition process. The recommended ratio of brown to green material is roughly 30:1. Begin by adding alternate layers of brown and green materials. Adding some soil or a small amount of commercially purchased composted manure will help kick in the decomposition process, if desired. Add enough water to the mix to make it moist, but not wet. If water drips when squeezing a handful, the mix it too moist. Add more brown material if this is the case. During rainy periods, it would behoove you to cover the compost bin with a tarp to avoid saturating the mix. (This also helps to raise the heat level) Conversely, if the mixture crumbles apart when released from your hand, it's too dry; add more water. The compost components should be mixed and/or turned at least once a week to promote aeration. This releases oxygen, which is key to activating the bugs (remember, bugs are good!) which aid in the break down of your material. Once your bin is about 3/4 full, avoid adding additional materials, otherwise the decomposition process will be disrupted by having to go back to square one. If you have the means, start a second compost pile instead.

Do you use compost in your gardens?

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Ready for use

Ok, so you've poked and prodded and churned and turned. How do you know when your compost is ready for the garden? There are a couple of ways of determining this. Visually, when the compost turns dark and crumbly (this is where the poking and prodding comes in!) and has an earthy smell, the compost should be ready to be incorporated into the garden. Another way to test for readiness, and this might be a good science experiment for your kids, is to take a handful from the center of the pile, moisten it well and place in a sealed plastic baggie. Keep it at room temperature for about a week. Upon opening the baggie, if the mix smells like dirt, it's ready for use. If is has a rotten, pungent smell, the decomposition process is not yet complete.

One final note: when your compost is ready for the garden, spread it in your plant beds and mix well with the existing soil. Let it sit for about a week before planting. This will allow the amended soils to incorporate and "cool down", resulting in less chance of burning your new plantings.

That's it for now. Happy gardening!


Shauna L Bowling

Refining, Defining or Rhyming

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© 2011 Shauna L Bowling

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Comments 20 comments

saxrunner profile image

saxrunner 5 years ago

Great hub! This natural process has always fascinated me, but I never knew how to go about doing it myself. Thanks for the info! Voted up and useful.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 5 years ago from Central Florida Author

Thanx! Did you check out how to make your own composter on a tight budget? It's really pretty easy!


aquaponics4you profile image

aquaponics4you 5 years ago from India

You really changed my thinking, thanks


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 5 years ago from Central Florida Author

Awesome! You're very welcome! Stay tuned......


mljdgulley354 profile image

mljdgulley354 5 years ago

Great information. I never thought about waiting after mixing the compost into your garden. Glad to know that. I will try that tidbit this year.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 5 years ago from Central Florida Author

Actually, I wasn't aware of that at first, either. Trial and error, right? But it makes sense. The compost is very potent, due to the heat created to break down all the different materials in order to come to a happy medium, so to speak, and needs time to blend with the existing soil in order to avoid "shocking" the new plant material. When you add a soil enhancement, such as homemade compost, the chemical properties created by the heat of the compost pile, need to "mellow out" and blend with the existing soil. Much like beating an egg to blend the yolk with the white. Once the individual properties join, they become an entirely unique substance, rather than "floating" next to each other; each fighting to overcome the other.

I actually checked on both of my composters this afternoon. I'm proud to say, the garbage can compost (I'm very proud of my primitively made composter!!) looks very much like dark, lumpy dirt and actually has earthworms and small frogs now living in it! Hurray! The earthworms are integral to the complete decomposition process. The fact that they found the pile (in a closed garbage can?!) tells me the mix is right!

Try making your own garbage can composter. It's cheap. It does take a long time for the process to make it's way (I started mine in February of this year), but so, so rewarding!


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 2 years ago from Nashville Tn.

I live with my daughter and we compost regularly.

I appreciate being able to do this. It's such a booster for my garden and plants. I don't waste anything. I have 6 extra large plastic trash bins that fill up in no time with food containers, cans, bottles and such.

The minute I saw this hub I almost tripped over myself getting to it:) You have served so many people with how to make their own compost bin and pile.

I will gladly share this with many others. Thanks Sha - Audrey


HappyMikeWritter profile image

HappyMikeWritter 2 years ago

What a wonderfull article. Even I have a huge garden I have never try to have a composting spot on it. I shall give it a try :-)


ARUN KANTI profile image

ARUN KANTI 2 years ago from KOLKATA

Composting has many benefits; It is a natural eco friendly alternative to chemical fertilizers and can divert a major portion of household waste away to the garden. Reducing landfill expenses it adds beneficial organisms to the soil.Thank you very much for writing on such a vital issue.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida Author

Audrey, composting really is the way to go. It not only makes use of garbage but it feeds the soil and deters many types of pests from invading the garden. I'm glad to hear you and your daughter compost regularly. Thanks for sharing and doing your part for the environment.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida Author

Happy Mike, there are several ways to make compost bins. I also have one made from a plastic garbage can. I wrote a hub illustrating how to do it. I hope you'll get into composting. Your gardens will thank you for it!


mary615 profile image

mary615 2 years ago from Florida

I have been a composter for years! I like the idea of using a tumbler like this one!

Voted UP, etc. and will share.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida Author

Arun, you nailed it. Thanks for expounding on this article by way of comment.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida Author

Mary, good for you! I like my tumbler, too. It's easier to turn the mix than my garbage can bin. Thanx for sharing!


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

This is a good idea using tumbler. I am a composter since 2012 when I started gardening. Thanks for sharing this very informative and useful hub. Have a great day!


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

I need one that tumbles! I have compost piles and even a container, but I have to pull dirt out of the bottom of it. Yours looks perfect! Great hub!


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida Author

Happy gardening, Thelma! The compost tumbler is easy to manipulate and turn. It's much easier on my arms than shoveling and turning the material in a garbage can, which is what I'd be doing if my friend hadn't made the tumbler for me.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida Author

Victoria, I was doing the same as you until my friend surprised me with my tumbler. Now all I have to do is give it a few spins when I add new material to it. Much easier on the arms and back!


Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

Kierstin Gunsberg 2 years ago

I've been really wanting to get into composting. Thanks for the info! Sharing = )


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida Author

You're welcome, Kierstin. Composting is good for the environment and saves you money at the same time. What could be better than that?

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