How to start and maintain a compost heap.

Starting a Compost Heap:

  1. Selecting a Location: Choose a well-drained area that receives partial sunlight. Avoid placing the compost heap too close to structures or trees, as the roots may interfere with the composting process.
  2. Best Place for a Compost Heap:
    • Sunlight: Choose a spot that receives partial sunlight. While composting microbes thrive in warmth, too much direct sunlight may dry out the compost.
    • Drainage: Ensure good drainage to prevent water logging. Elevate the compost heap slightly or place it on a surface that allows excess water to drain away.
    • Accessibility: Place the compost heap in a convenient location for easy access. This encourages regular turning and monitoring.
  3. Using a Container or Open Pile: Decide whether you want to use a compost bin or create an open pile. Bins are neater and can help control the composting process, while open piles offer more space for larger quantities.
  4. Layering Materials: Begin by creating a base layer of coarse materials like small branches or straw to allow for airflow. Alternate layers of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials to achieve a balanced compost mix.
  5. Green Materials: Add nitrogen-rich green materials such as kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds), fresh yard waste, and green plant clippings. These materials provide essential nutrients and help activate the composting process.
  6. Brown Materials: Intermix carbon-rich brown materials such as dried leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, or cardboard. Browns provide structure, absorb excess moisture, and balance the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.
  7. Moisture Control: Keep the compost heap moist but not waterlogged. Watering occasionally helps facilitate decomposition. The compost should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
  8. Turning the Compost: Turn the compost regularly to aerate it and accelerate decomposition. This can be done with a pitchfork or by rotating a compost tumbler. Turning promotes even breakdown and prevents unpleasant odors.
  9. Covering the Compost: Covering the compost heap with a tarp or a lid helps retain moisture and heat. It also prevents excess rainwater from saturating the compost.

What to Include:

  1. Green Materials:
    • Kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds)
    • Fresh yard waste (grass clippings, weeds)
    • Green plant materials (prunings, spent flowers)
  2. Brown Materials:
    • Dried leaves
    • Straw or hay
    • Shredded newspaper or cardboard (avoid glossy or colored paper)
  3. Additional Ingredients:
    • Eggshells
    • Small amounts of wood ash
    • Manure from herbivores (cow, horse, rabbit)

What to Avoid:

  1. Meat and Dairy Products:
    • These can attract pests and may not decompose properly.
  2. Oily or Greasy Materials:
    • Fats and oils can slow down the composting process.
  3. Diseased Plants:
    • Avoid adding plants infected with diseases to prevent the spread of pathogens.
  4. Pet Waste:
    • Pet waste can contain harmful pathogens; it’s best to avoid adding it to compost used for edible plants.
  5. Weeds with Seeds:
    • Weeds that have gone to seed may not be fully destroyed during composting and can sprout in your garden later. If this is going to be an issue, just don’t add those to your mix. If you also have something you are disposing of that should not enter waterways or our environment, put it in black plastic bags and leave them in the sun for a few days before disposing of them in the garbage.

By following these guidelines, you can create a successful compost heap that transforms kitchen and yard waste into nutrient-rich compost for your garden. Adjust the balance of green and brown materials, turn the compost regularly, and be patient as the natural decomposition process takes its course!