With spring underway, gardeners of all stripes are looking forward to getting outside and starting their gardens. Many of us who grow our own food understand the importance of quality soil when it comes to getting the most out of our gardens, which is why so many of us compost. Once you start looking at your kitchen scraps as the raw material for good soil, you’ll never want to throw away organic material again.
As with many things, however, composting is varying parts art and science, and it can take a little trial and error to get things just right. That’s why we’ve compiled these seven useful tips for you to help improve your compost.
1. Use the Right Container
First and foremost, you’re going to need to use the right container. Composting requires a lot of material in order to build up enough heat to break down organic materials. A five gallon bucket isn’t going to cut it, and even many backyard composters may be too small. At a minimum, think about using something the size of a 30-gallon trash can or larger. But the larger the container, very often the quicker the composting process can be.
Of course, if you’re doing something like worm composting, you can get away with a smaller container. But traditional composting will require a much larger volume.
2. Use the Right Ingredients
Pretty much anything you produce in your kitchen from fruit and vegetable scraps can be composted, although you’ll want to go light on citrus, as it tends to break down very slowly. Egg shells are good for adding calcium and minerals, and you can even throw in paper towels, as long as they haven’t come into contact with chemicals or fats.
You don’t want to add fats, bones, meat, cheese, or dairy products as these will attract pests and hinder the effectiveness of your composting. And don’t compost weeds or anything that’s diseased or infected with pests, as that will just spread things you don’t want throughout your garden.
All the vegetable scraps like banana peels, carrot peels, apple cores, etc. are what are known as green materials, and give your compost the nitrogen it needs.
You’ll also want to add brown materials that add carbon and fiber to your compost. These include dried leaves, shredded cardboard, shredded white paper, and cardboard egg cartons.
3. Use the Right Ratios
You’ll want to use the right ratio when mixing your greens and browns. Ideally you’ll want at least two parts browns to one part greens, although some sources indicate that a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio could actually be better.
What you want to avoid is having too many greens and not enough browns, as that can lead to mold, rotting, and slow composting.
4. Shred Your Materials
The materials you compost should be chopped or shredded as finely as possible so that they decompose quicker. This means cutting large peels into smaller pieces, crushing eggshells, and shredding paper, leaves and cardboard. You can still make good compost without shredding, but be prepared to wait.
5. Oxygen and Moisture
Good composting requires both oxygen and moisture. Ideally your compost will have the consistency of a damp sponge. Too little or too much moisture will result in a slowdown in the decomposition process.
6. Use a Booster
Sometimes your compost will need a little boost, to provide enough bacteria to start speeding up the decomposition process. This is especially the case when you’re starting your compost pile.
The addition of a little bit of finished compost or manure can help speed things up a bit. Even a little bit of garden soil can help. Or you can look up recipes for various liquid compost boosters online, which generally are made from varying combinations of yeast, sugary liquids, or household ammonia.
7. Turn Often
The weight of damp organic material will tend to compact your compost solids over time. That will choke off oxygen supply and cause the composting process to slow down. You can help prevent this by turning your compost pile on a regular basis, normally about once or twice a week. The last thing you want is to go through all the work and effort of building a compost pile only to see your efforts stagnate due to insufficient turning.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that can help with your composting, but it should hopefully give you a leg up once you start building your compost pile.