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What is Compost and How to Make It at Home

Updated on February 12, 2018

I have read and heard many things in the past couple of years about the benefits of compost for the garden. Ever since I heard of composting, I've wanted to do it at my house. I never could talk my husband into making me a composting bin so he did the next best thing - he bought me one for my birthday. It's not everyone who would be delighted by such a gift - but I was! I couldn't wait to get started so I began reading up again on how to compost so I'd do it right.

What is compost and why is it beneficial?

What's so special or fun about composting? Well, for starters, it's downright cheap, beneficial for the environment since materials are reused and can help grow the most amazing flowers and vegetables.

What is composting? Composting involves gathering certain yard and kitchen wastes into a pile or container so that they can rot. The rotted materials form rich decomposed organic matter that can be used to fertilize or mulch the garden without spending a dime.

Compost is made of two materials. "Brown" ingredients are full of carbon and provide energy. They include: dried grass clippings, dead leaves, straw, dead weeds (not invasive ones), sawdust from untreated wood, wood ashes, dryer lint, shredded cardboard, corn stalks, shredded newspaper, peanut shells, peat moss, pine needles, etc.

"Green" material is high in nitrogen and provides protein for the microorganisms that dwell in the compost. Green materials consist of: vegetable and fruit peelings or rinds (not bananas, peaches or oranges), eggshells, coffee grounds, used tea bags, fresh grass clippings, hay, green leaves, green weeds (not invasive), livestock manure, clover, seaweed, etc.

It's important to keep a balance of brown and green material in your compost pile or bin. Too much green makes it smelly and mushy and too much brown slows down decomposition. Keeping the compost moist and turning the material frequently with a pitchfork or similar object will yield the best results - dark, earthy, rich-smelling compost.

What doesn't belong in the compost pile

Some things do not belong in the compost pile because they attract pests and rodents or worse and they smell terrible when rotting. Pet or human waste, coal ash, colored paper, diseased plants, inorganic material (plastic, metal), meat, bones, dairy, fish and chemicals should not be added to compost.

The Compost Bin

My compost bin is made of heavy-duty plastic with a tight-fitting lid and four ports at the bottom from which I can gather the finished product. It has many air holes on each of the sides and there is no bottom to it. We assembled it (so easy) and put it on the far side of the driveway in a gravel area that gets about 6 hours of sunlight a day. It's convenient to add to, close to the gardens and far enough away from the house not to be unsightly.

While I love my pre-made bin, it would be very simple to take a plastic garbage can and drill some holes all around it to make your own. To turn the compost, all you'd have to do is turn the can on its side and roll it around! I've heard of open wire "cage" composters also but these would not be practical areas where wild animals lurk.

Spread the compost for your garden throughout the planting beds for fruits, vegetables and flowers. Plant seedlings in a hole with compost in the bottom. The compost enriches the soil and aids in prolific growth for plants.

I am thrilled to start this new "green" project at home and am looking forward to beautiful flowers and vegetables later in the season!


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