Composting is a great way to create nutrient-rich organic material for your home garden. How we fertilize our gardens is a matter of personal opinion, but for my money there is nothing better than natural fertilizers, and compost is at the top of my list. Like anything else, there are a LOT of perspectives on how to best compost, so let this be my disclaimer that my method is just one approach and you should certainly explore other resources for different composting techniques to find what works best for you.
The basics of composting are that you are taking chunky organic material and placing it in a defined space to breakdown/decompose into a nutrient-rich, soil-like mixture that you can integrate into your garden soil to help feed your vegetable and fruit plants and/or your flower beds. Your primary composting materials will fall into one of two categories: green and brown.
Green compost materials are things like your fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen (also known as “wet” compost, which also includes coffee grounds and eggshells), your non-treated grass clippings, non-seeding weeds you pull out of your beds, and livestock manures from cows, horses, sheep, goats, chickens, etc. (no dog or cat waste, please).
Brown compost materials are, as you may guess, brown. These materials are primarily more “dry” – so fall leaves, twigs and small sticks, wood shavings, non-treated, non-seeding straw or hay, corn stalks, dryer lint, cotton fabric, non-waxed cardboard, and non-glossy newspaper.
For your compost pile, you want a nice, balanced mix of green (wet) and brown materials, tipping the scales more towards the brown materials. It’s really important that you avoid adding any materials that have been chemically treated (e.g. grass treated with chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and the like) and that you avoid animal proteins such as meat or dairy products. You want your compost to be damp (which is where the wet compost comes into play), but not soaking wet (with the understanding that you can’t really do anything about your compost getting rained on, in which case turning the materials can help dry it out a bit).
There are differing views as to whether or not to place your compost pile (bin, optional) in the sun or the shade, but I like to compost in the sun up here because we live in a temperate rainforest that sees upwards of 100+ inches of rain per year. Those in drier, sunnier climates should opt for composting in a shady spot to prevent their compost from drying out. Sun helps accelerate the decomposition process, which is why I like keeping my compost in a sunny spot.
My technique is a no-turn process that uses a length of 3″-diameter rigid, plastic pipe (such as PVC) to create an air tunnel through the compost that helps keep it aerated. Traditional composting uses turning to add air to the mix, but my method uses the length of rigid pipe with 1/2″ holes drilled into the top to bring air into the pile (as demonstrated in the video).
In the right conditions, it takes about three months to produce usable compost. But, once you get the process started and consistently build your compost pile, you will find that you have compost at-the-ready as you need it after that initial three-month period. So, find your spot, build a bin from cement blocks, old pallets or the like (if you choose), and get to composting!