Composting  has been going on since the first leaf fell to the ground and began it’s decomposition. Home composting is the managed process of combining brown and green organic matter in way that accelerates that decomposition.

Home composting  is accomplish by layering both garden trimmings and kitchen scraps with the right amount of air, moisture and heat.  Billions of microbes in the organic matter break down the mixture leaving a rich soil conditioner and fertilizer.

Where to compost.
Some folks build their compost pile in heap in a corner of the backyard. Others use chicken wire enclosures, homemade containers or commercial bins. If possible, choose an area in your yard that gets a lot of sun to start your composting. If this isn’t possible, just pick a spot and understand that your compost may take a little longer to “cook”. Most commercial compost bins are black or a very dark green to absorb as much of the sun’s heat as possible. The higher the temperature in your compost, the faster those scraps and clippings will break down.

What to compost.
The microorganisms that break down the organic material in compost need carbon, nitrogen, air and moisture to survive. Brown materials contribute most of the carbon and green materials contain nitrogen. The mixture should be about one part green to three parts brown. The ratio of brown to green is important to keep the pile working.

Brown ingredients include things that have already started to decay such as dried leaves, dried grass, straw and dried wood chips. As this material dries out, it changes from a high-nitrogen material into a carbon material. Shredded newspaper with soy ink can also be added to compost in moderation.

Green ingredients include kitchen scraps like fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags and eggshells. Garden clippings such as green grass clippings, cut flowers and green leaves – anything from the garden that is still green, not dried, can be added to your compost as a “green” material. The smaller the size of the materials the better because the material will break down more quickly

Do not compost pet waste, meats, oils, dairy products, diseased plants or plants treated with weed killers.

Layering your compost
The first layer should be coarse materials to allow air to be drawn up into the pile from the bottom. Place 4 inches of brush, twigs, and straw as the bed of your compost. Next add a layer of brown materials. On top of that add some good garden soil or compost, this will help get the new batch started faster. Add a layer of green material and repeat – brown, garden soil and green materials. Make sure the layers are no more than four inches high.

Moisten each layer with a fine mist from the garden hose. Too much moisture can cause temperatures to fall within the pile (and make it smell). Too little moisture slows down the decomposition rate and keeps the pile from heating up.

Turning your compost
Compost needs air and must be turned regularly – once a week is good.  If the compost pile isn’t turned it will take a long time for the organic matter to turn into usable compost. It can take from 6 months to two years without turning. The bacteria needs air to survive and get it’s job done. Also, if there isn’t an adequate supply of air the compost may smell.

When it’s ready to use.

The finished compost will have an earthy aroma, dark color, and crumbly texture. Wait until the compost is cold to use, never use it when it is still cooking. If there is any recognizable material in the compost, use a screen to separate this material from the usable compost. Return the unfinished material to the compose pile to complete the process.

It’s now time to add the compost to your in ground or raised bed gardens as a supplement. The newly completed compost will improve your garden’s soil structure by enabling the soil to retain nutrients, water and air more effectively. It will also furnish the essential nutrients your plants need to be healthy and happy.

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