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How to Compost to Improve Your Soil

Updated on April 30, 2013

Why compost?

No one has perfect garden soil. Some soils have too much clay. Some soils are too sandy. The pH of the dirt can be too high or too low.

There is one simple solution to any of your soil woes: add compost.

Composting is the process by which bacteria and other organisms break down your piled up organic material. The result is a rich, dark humus that you can use as fertilizer on your garden.

Compost adds valuable nutrients to your soil that will feed your plants. It will improve your texture. It will loosen heavy soil or increase the water-holding capacity of sandy soils.

And it is a great way to recycle kitchen waste. Did you know that over 30% of all material at the dump is organic material? This organic material decomposes very slowly at the dump. This anaerobic decomposition emits methane, a greenhouse gas.

This is not a problem if you compost your waste at home. Organic waste that is composted at home decomposes quickly and aerobically.

Composting at home will reduce your waste. It will save you money on fertilizer. Your plants will be healthier and produce more, which will reduce your food bill.

Convinced yet? Good, lets get started.

The first thing you need is a place to start your compost heap. Your compost pile can be as simple as a pile in a corner of your yard.

Or you can purchase a composter. There are a few different kinds on the market.

Compost bins help to speed up the process. They look nicer than a free standing compost heap. And they prevent nutrients from being washed away by too much rain.

So you have your area ready. Now you need materials to add to it.

Basically you need:

  1. organic material
  2. water
  3. oxegen
  4. heat

There are two kinds of organic material you can put in your composter.

There are the carbon-sources, or brown material. Things like:

  • dried leaves
  • cardboard
  • shredded newspaper
  • straw
  • peanut shells
  • shredded bark
  • dried grass
  • hay
  • dryer lint
  • hair or fur
  • dust

And there are the nitrogen sources or green materials, such as:

  • fresh grass clippings
  • fresh leaves, shredded
  • eggshells
  • fruit or vegetable waste
  • coffee grounds and filters
  • teabags
  • seaweed

The goal is to get as many different things in there as possible. This makes better compost, as different materials will have different nutrients.

The key to quick compost is to shred or chop everything as small as you can.The smaller the piece is, the smaller the surface area that decay organisms can attack. This leads to faster decomposition.

Whatever you do , DO NOT ADD:

  • diseased plants
  • weeds that have gone to seed
  • aggressive weeds like quack grass or Bermuda grass
  • plants or grass treated with pesticides
  • meat scraps or fats
  • dog or cat poo
  • sticks (take forever to decompose)

At first you want to layer your browns and greens. It is not an exact science, but aim to have more brown than green.

Once you have your pile ready, wet it down. It should be damp, like a wrung out sponge. The organisms that work to break down your pile need this moisture to live.

They also need oxygen.You can get oxygen into your pile by poking holes in it and turning it every couple of weeks.

If your pile does not get enough oxygen, it turns anaerobic. The wrong microbes dominate and pathogens can survive. And your pile will stink!

The Right Temperature

Your compost heap will go through three stages of heat, depending on the type of bacteria that is active.

Stage one is the psychrophilic stage. Your heap will be between 0-18 degrees Celsius.

Stage two is the mesophilic stage. Your heap will be between 40-93 degrees Celsius. Most of the decomposition happens at this stage.

Stage three is the thermophilic stage. It is between 40-93 degrees Celsius. Weed seeds and pathogens are killed at this temperature. Your pile needs to be between 57-71 degrees Celsius for more than three days to kill all of the bacteria.

Adding new material to your compost pile will lower the temperature. It is best to stockpile and add large amounts of material all at once. Turn it well and water it.

Compost Dilemmas

My pile stinks! This usually means that it is too wet or not getting enough oxegen. Turn your pile and add more dry brown material.

It is not heating up! The pile may be too small or it may be too dry.

Nothing is happening! Many things can be wrong. It could be too small, too wet, too dry, or not enough oxygen. Stir it up well and add more green material to speed things along. Not too much though or you will have slime.

My pile is attracting pests! Bury your food waste deeper into the centre of the pile. Increase pile temperature by turning it to kill fly larvae.


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    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 6 years ago from Canada

      I'm glad you liked it, livingfood.

    • LivingFood profile image

      LivingFood 6 years ago

      Lots of good information for the newbie like me!

    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for commenting, oceansnsunsets.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Daisy, I loved this hub, and hope to make my own compost real soon. I have wanted to do that for a long time, but never took the plunge. Thank you for sharing.