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Composting basics

Updated on February 13, 2013

What is Compost?

In the world of gardening there are few things as powerful as having a large healthy compost pile. This simple solution provides an outlet for kitchen scraps, animal manure, grass clippings and much more, and in return it provides plentiful nutrition for your garden and plants.

Compost is decayed organic matter, the most commonly store bought compost is steer manure. Although most home composters use kitchen scraps. The nutrients stored in the organic matter are made available to the plants it is applied to after it is composted. Compost is an extremely effective way to restore soil to a more fertile state.

Types Of Composting.

As with anything there is more than one way of going about composting. There are three basic composting methods: cold composting, hot composting, and vermicomposting. All have advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a little bit about each option.

cut away look at a cold compost bin.
cut away look at a cold compost bin. | Source

Cold Composting

Cold composting is by far the easiest of all the options. All this method requires you to do is make a pile of your waste and let it decompose on its own. This method is the least labor intensive you ultimately never have to turn the compost to keep it going. This method employs psychrophilic microbes that don’t mind the cold.

The down side to cold composting is that it can take from 6 to 24 months to do the job of turning your waste into usable compost. Any seeds put in to a cold compost pile will sprout given enough time, many gardening enthusiast have had the experience of having a volunteer tomato start growing in there compost pile, but many have also had the problem of weeds developing a strong hold on their compost pile.

What to put in it: In a cold compost you can put all of your vegetable scraps (carrot tops, bell pepper stems, that moldy veggie platter in the back of the fridge.), fruit scraps (apple cores, pineapple tops, moldy fruits.), egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, your yard clippings(given they are disease and seed free), and shredded paper scraps.

What NOT to put in: no meat products (bones, meat, fats), dairy products (milk, butter, yogurt) or oils (including foods high in oils) should go into your cold compost this will attract pests and make your compost undesirable to your garden and plants. Also no weeds that have gone to seed or plants with large amount of diseases should go into your pile, these will carry over to the next plants you put the compost on.

Steaming hot compost pile.
Steaming hot compost pile. | Source

Hot Composting

Hot composting is little bit more advanced but is still easily achieved given a little more attention is paid to the whole process. This method employs thermophilic microbes to quickly break down the matter. Hot composting can be very fast taking as little as 1-2 months to be ready. This method can also handle a larger variety of waste being put into it compared to cold composting.

There is a little more planning involved in this method though, there is a ratio of brown (carbon rich things, hay, leaves...) to green(nitrogen rich things, vegetable scraps, grass clippings...) there is a lot of debate over the perfect ratio however a commonly produced figure is about 25 parts brown to 1 part green. Luckily there's a part that’s more important than the ratio, (considering I’m more of an estimator when it comes to weighing out my food scraps.) it’s the size of the pile. Your pile needs to be at least 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall and the bigger the better. You should turn your pile every 1 to 2 weeks and check the temperature to make sure it is getting hot enough (around 140 degrees Fahrenheit.) if the pile doesn’t get hot enough it will not kill the seeds and other pests in the pile.

What to put in: just like the cold compost you can put vegetate matter, fruit waste, egg shells, coffee grounds and tea, grass clippings, yard waste, manure. With hot composting you can put those pesky weeds and things containing seeds, do to the extreme heat produced from the decomposing matter that will kill all seeds and other living things.

What not to put in: still no meat, dairy or large amounts of oils.

Adding the worms to the vermicompost.
Adding the worms to the vermicompost. | Source


Vermicomposting is an amazing way to deal with waste; it’s fast, relatively easy, and very effective. This method of composting is great for someone without much space; say you live in an apartment and only have a small about of counter space, all it takes is a box about the size of a shoe box and you can have an effective vermicomposter. Vermicomposting uses worms to eat the food waste, their castings (worm poop for short) are what you’re compost will be made from. If done properly a worm bin will not smell or attract flies.

However vermicomposting does require a little more work to get your finished product you must separate the worms from the castings. The size of a typical worm bin also limits your input you can’t put large quantities of yard waste in a worm bin on a counter top. However there are larger worm bins available.

What to put in it: you can put vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds, tea, and egg shells, your shredded bills and newspaper makes great bedding for the worms as well. There are some vermicomposters that employ other critters to eat different types of waste allowing for meat products to be put in, but for the typical worm bin this is not good for the compost.

What not to put in: no meat, or dairy products and no oils.

Composting Bins

Now that we have established the types of composting let’s look at what to do your composting in. Your compost can be as simple as a pile or as complex as a space ship in how it is designed. There are ample store bought composters and there are many great options out there for them. There are also some great DIY composting solutions to try for all types of composting.

Cold composting is most often done in a simple pile version. It can be boxed in to create a more manageable site. Many use pallets for the walls of their compost, this makes for a very manageable and cheap alternative to a store bought version.

Hot composting is also capable of pile composting but tends to do better if it is in an enclosure of sorts; this makes it so the pile is evenly heated. There are some great labor saving products out there that make it easier to turn your hot compost like the Compost wizard brand of composters. My preferred bin for this is chicken wire held up with some posts, it is simple and effective.

Vermicomposting has an endless number of products for it out there ranging in price and quality greatly. There are some very tried and true homemade bins though. A common DIY worm bin is a Rubbermaid container with 25to 30, one-eighth inch holes drilled in the bottom, cover bottom with landscaping fabric, then drill a few holes on each side. This is a great method if you’re on a budget. Vermicomposting also requires worm bedding there are a few options for store bought brands, put I personally enjoy using my old bills, junk mail and newspapers all shredded up as bedding. You can also use wood shavings, straw, leaves, or coir.

How To Use This Black Gold

compost is a great tool in the garden it provides a great boost to the nutrients in your soil. when planting a garden you can till your compost into the ground with the soil. if planting a few plants here and there you can place some compost on top of the soil around the plant and a little at the bottom of the hole to give the plant the nutrients it needs to get a strong start. It is also great for potted plants wether it be herbs, tomatoes, or your prized fushia. a great way to use your compost is with a compost tea: to make the most basic compost tea place three aquarium bubblers in the bottom of a five gallon bucket. Fill the bucket halfway with compost without packing it then add water till a 3-4 inches from the top and turn on the bubblers. add 1 oz of black strap mollasos and stir well. let this sit with the bubblers running for three days then strain the mixture. you will have a great fertalizer for your plants to spray on the foliage or water with.

Go Get Your Hands Dirty

Now that you have the basics on a variety of way to compost and what to do with it, lets hear about your composting experience. What type are you going to try? What have you already tried? Let’s hear it!


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