Articles From Composting For Dummies

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38 results
38 results
Composting For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-01-2022

By composting food scraps, yard waste, and other ingredients, you create nutrient-rich compost to add to your garden and landscape, and you minimize the waste sent to landfills. Home composting is a great way to be greener and do something good for the environment while seeing major benefits right at home.

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Benefits of Adding Compost to Your Garden

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Composting provides you with rich organic matter that does wonders to improve the quality of your garden soil. Whether you sprinkle compost on the surface of the soil or work it in, your garden plants and landscape will grow healthier and stronger thanks to the addition. Your garden benefits from compost in the following ways: Incorporates organic matter to feed microorganisms and macroorganisms that maintain a healthy soil food web Enriches soil with nutrients for plant growth Releases nutrients slowly so they don’t leach away as some synthetic fertilizers do Improves soil structure Promotes drainage and aeration in clay soil Enhances moisture and nutrient retention in sandy soil Reduces soil compaction Inhibits erosion Suppresses soil-borne diseases and pests Attracts earthworms, nature’s best soil builders

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Mix in Brown and Green Compost Ingredients

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Organic matter high in carbon — what composters commonly call browns — provides energy for decomposer organisms as they consume and break down the contents of your compost pile. Organic matter high in nitrogen — called greens — supplies the decomposers with protein. Maintain well-fed composting organisms with these varied ingredients. BrownsGreens Dry leaves Kitchen scraps Woody plant trimmings Coffee grounds and filters Straw Leafy plant trimmings Pine needles Grass clippings Sawdust Manure Paper products Feathers, fur, and hair

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Surefire Tips for Speedy Compost

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

A great thing about composting is that it can take as much or as little time as you want or need it to. If your time is limited and you want to speed up the process to get compost fast, follow these tips: Increase the surface area of your ingredients. Before adding it to your compost, chop, shred, crack, whack, and smack organic matter into small pieces. (It’s a good stress reliever!) Your effort increases total surface area and creates open wounds in the materials, allowing soil organisms easy access to begin consuming and breaking them down. Take the damp sponge test. Starting a compost pile with too-dry ingredients or allowing ingredients to dry out without remoistening is a direct route to slow decomposition. Fast-acting compost piles contain about 40 to 60 percent water. Squeeze handfuls of compost from various sections of the pile to check its moisture level. Everything should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Turn and rewet materials as needed to maintain this level of moisture. Air it out. Soil organisms require oxygen just as you do. When air supplies are depleted, the organisms die without reproducing in sufficient numbers to keep decomposition zipping along. Keep the little critters in your compost pile well-supplied with oxygen by turning the pile completely every week or two (or three). If your time is limited, stick a compost fork or aerating tool into the pile to stir things up. This action doesn’t generate as much oxygen throughout the pile as a total turnover, but it does an acceptable job and only takes a minute or two.

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Shopping for Composting Tools

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

You need very little equipment to start composting. Before you buy, visit garden centers or home improvement and hardware stores and try out some hand tools. Their length and weight should be comfortable for you to wield over extended periods of turning or shoveling organic matter. The basic tools to get you started composting are Compost fork or pitchfork: Long, thin tines allow you to hoist and toss large loads of organic matter efficiently. Shovel or spade: These tools help you turn almost-finished compost or incorporate finished compost into your garden. If you already own either one, you’re set. Hose and spray nozzle: Moisture is an essential component of a fast-acting compost pile. Your hose should reach easily from the outdoor faucet to your compost area. Add an adjustable nozzle that allows you to fine-tune the spray level, and turn it off to conserve water while you’re adding or mixing organic matter.

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Items to Keep Out of Your Compost

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Your compost pile isn’t a trash can. Some materials definitely don’t qualify as compost ingredients because they contain pathogens, attract pests, or cause other problems. You must take care to add only the right organic ingredients to feed the decomposition process. Leave out the following items: Ashes from charcoal barbecues: Dispose of this residue in the trash, not your compost pile or bin. It contains sulfur oxides and other chemicals you don’t want to incorporate into your compost. Ashes from fireplaces or wood stoves: Small amounts of ash (a few handfuls per pile) are okay if you have acidic soil. Never use wood ashes if your soil is alkaline, however, because the ash increases alkalinity. Disease- or insect-infested plant material: Pathogens and pests can survive the composting process if the heap doesn’t get hot enough. Just leave this material out — better safe than sorry! Meat, bones, grease, fats, oils, or dairy products: This kitchen waste may turn rancid and attract rodents and other pests. Waste: Feces from cats (including soiled litter), dogs, birds, pigs, and humans may contain harmful pathogens that aren’t killed during decomposition. Weeds with seed heads: Toss the leafy foliage into your compost as a source of green nitrogen, but send weed seeds to the trash. If seeds survive the decomposition process, they’ll sprout wherever you spread finished compost.

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Tips for Buying a Composter

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Because there are so many types of composters on the market, finding the right one for you can be tricky. Compost containers (despite some of the marketing materials that accompany them) aren't magical devices whereby you drop in straw, wave your wand-like compost thermometer, and presto — out spills black gold! The basic needs of decomposer organisms must still be met, including an appropriate mix of carbon and nitrogen materials chopped into small pieces, moisture and aeration during the process, and sufficient mass to build up and retain temperature levels. Your efforts in meeting these requirements favor the types of mesophilic and thermophilic organisms that do the bulk of the composting work. Considering these options when choosing a container: Size: Keep in mind that a container's size is often the limiting factor in its ability to produce compost quickly. If the container holds less than 1 cubic yard (1 cubic meter) of materials (the minimum size for efficient decomposition), you can still work with it. But you need to manage the contents, air, moisture, and temperature more regularly if you want speedy compost, just as you would with a freestanding pile or homemade bin. If you're in no hurry and just want a tidy receptacle to contain a relatively small amount of organic leftovers, then container size is not as important a factor. Weight: If it's a tumbler, you want to be able to easily rotate it when it's full of heavy, wet organic matter. If it's not a tumbler, and you use just one container, it's nice to be able to lift it up and off the organic matter to set it aside for turning or reloading. Height: Make sure you can easily lift your pitchfork or shovel loaded with organic materials into the container. It's typically less fatiguing to rest your pitchfork or shovel on the side of the container as you empty it, rather than to hoist it upwards above shoulder level. Assembly required: Most bins require some assembly. Connectors such as screws or bolts usually hold up longer than plastic tabs that crack or break after a season or two in extreme weather. Look for sturdy, rigid construction at joints. Loose connections can come apart and cause the container to collapse when you're poking around in the bin. Lids: Look for sufficiently large top openings to add fresh organic matter. Will your loaded-up pitchfork or shovel fit with room to spare? Or do you need to use your hands to stuff materials in? Pest deterrents: Lids should tighten securely to protect against enterprising pests and strong winds. At the same time, you want to be able to lift lids to add more organic matter without a lot of fuss. Access panels: Some units offer sliding trap doors at the bottom to provide access to the finished compost. Check the dimensions to see whether your spade will fit inside. Otherwise, you'll need to scoop compost out by hand or use a hand trowel. Aeration and drainage holes: Air and water are important ingredients in composting. If bins are fully enclosed, there must be some method for allowing air in and moisture out. Without drainage, the contents of the container turn wet and stinky and the decomposition process slows.

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When to Compost with a Container

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Although a simple compost pile will certainly give you nice, rich organic matter for your garden and keep your food waste out of landfills, it isn't always the best option. In some situations, it makes more sense to compost in a container. Acceptable landscape aesthetics vary widely by individual, neighborhood, and community standards. If you're fortunate to live where local government encourages home composting to reduce solid waste sent to landfills, you may be surrounded by supportive neighbors who also compost. On the other hand, you may be surrounded by those who are less enthusiastic and don't want to see your mounds of organic matter from their backyard or windows. Using containers that hide organic matter with fully enclosed sides or containers that you can tuck discretely into out-of-view locations forestalls potential complaints. Other good reasons to employ containers in your composting efforts include the following: Containers keep your stockpiles of dried materials, such as leaves, straw, and sawdust, under control until you need them. Without some type of holding unit, your carefully collected ingredients might end up scattered around the yard the next time a mighty wind blows through. Keeping kitchen scraps in and pests out is another important benefit offered by containers that are completely enclosed and feature secure lids.. When it comes to efficient composting, maintaining the overall size and shape of your original pile of ingredients is easier within the confines of containers. When compost materials have sufficient mass (at least 1 cubic yard), they're better able to self-insulate to maintain consistent moisture levels and higher temperatures, conditions that speed decomposition. Fully enclosed bins help organic matter retain moisture, a characteristic that's useful if you live in an arid climate. Decomposition slows down when the compost pile dries out. If you live in a rainy climate, enclosed bins keep heavy rains from soaking organic matter. Wet piles turn anaerobic and smelly. Some bins offer insulating qualities that help increase and maintain higher temperatures inside.

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Tools You Need for Composting

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

All the tools you really need to start composting are a long-handled fork, a spade or shovel, and something with which to chop up larger stems and prunings. But like most jobs in the garden, having the right tools for the task makes it a whole lot easier. Here's a list of the best tools for basic composting tasks: Mixing things up with a pitchfork or compost fork: Pitchforks and compost forks have four or five long, thin, tapered, and upward-curving tines designed to efficiently glide into a pile of organic material, allowing you to hoist and pitch it to a new location. These forks are perfect for moving large clumps of bulky, lightweight organic matter, such as hay, straw, leaves, and plant trimmings. Use them to build new compost piles and turn them until the organic matter is fairly decomposed. Digging in with a soil fork: A soil fork is useful for turning almost-finished compost or digging heavy finished compost from the pile and incorporating it into garden beds. Digging and moving dirt with shovels and spades: Generally, a shovel is a tool designed for moving material, with a raised lip on each side of the blade to stop bits from falling off. A spade has a sharp, straight head and is used for digging. Shovels and spades are available in various styles, with slight variations to enhance specific gardening tasks, such as trenching for irrigation lines, edging lawns, or transplanting perennials: Rounded-blade shovel: A rounded-blade shovel serves as an all-purpose tool for gardening tasks such as turning almost-finished compost, shoveling finished compost from a bin, incorporating compost into garden beds, and digging transplant holes in already-loose, sandy, or loamy soils. Pointed-blade shovel: A pointed-blade shovel is the most versatile choice if you buy only one digging implement. It performs the same chores as the rounded-blade shovel, while also allowing easier digging into compacted clay soils. The pointed blade is useful for chopping up organic matter into smaller pieces before tossing it into the compost pile. Keeping things moist with a good-quality hose: In composting, easy access to water is important because moisture is an essential component of a successful composting effort. A cheap hose will plague you forever, kinking, cracking, and refusing to coil easily until you finally give up and buy a better one. Splurge on a good-quality hose at the outset and add a nozzle that allows you to turn the flow on and off. Moving compost in buckets or tarps: Compost transport around the garden can be as thrifty and low-tech as a heavy-duty plastic builder's bucket or a tarp. A bucket is ideal for moving small quantities of compost. Hauling compost with wheelbarrows or garden carts: If you generate a lot of compost and have a big yard with lots of plants and planting areas to haul your lovely compost to, a wheelbarrow or garden cart is an asset. They come in all sizes, shapes, and weights.

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Aerobic versus Anaerobic Composting

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Two broad categories of microorganisms consume and decompose organic matter: those that need air (aerobic) and those that don't (anaerobic). Most folks who compost rely on aerobic, aboveground decomposition. It's the simplest method to start with because all that's required is a pile of organic matter. Aerobic composting Aerobic composting is the principle at work in aboveground composting environments — whether it takes place in a freestanding pile or in a container that provides air circulation, such as a bin with open sides or a tumbler with aeration holes. As long as plenty of air is available, aerobic decomposers work faster and more efficiently than their anaerobic counterparts, providing you with finished compost on a faster timetable. However, as organisms deplete the supply of oxygen from the existing spaces and pores between bits of organic matter, the decomposition process slows. To keep your decomposers working at maximum speed, you may want to incorporate some type of aeration aid during your initial pile construction. One way to do this is to pile organic materials on top of a recycled shipping pallet. The pallet sits several inches above the ground's surface, allowing air to flow beneath it. If you notice your compost pile shrinking, you can reenergize your aerobicizers by giving your pile a fresh infusion of oxygen in a couple ways: Turn your pile completely: Fork a freestanding heap to an adjacent spot or turn the contents of one bin into another. If using a tumbler, give it a spin. Stir organic matter regularly: Use a pitchfork or an aerating tool to stir things up. If your compost is emitting a bad odor, like rotten eggs or ammonia, it's too wet or wasn't thoroughly mixed. A well-constructed compost pile doesn't smell bad. In fact, it emits a refreshing earthy aroma, like kicking up leaves during a walk through the woods. Aboveground aerobic decomposers can withstand higher temperatures than their anaerobic counterparts, and they generate heat as a byproduct of their activity. Not all aboveground piles are "hot," but when conditions are to the decomposers' liking, temperatures in your pile heat up sufficiently to kill weed seeds and pathogens. Anaerobic decomposition Anaerobic organisms work without oxygen, so most anaerobic takes place underground in pits or trenches. Basically, you dig a hole, fill it with organic matter, and seal it with a layer of soil. Anaerobic decomposers get right to work, with no need for fresh O2. Anaerobic organisms work at slower rates than their aerobic counterparts, and it's impossible to monitor their progress without digging into the hole and poking around. Anaerobic organisms exude smelly gas as a byproduct of their exertions. And because of the colder conditions, weed seeds and plant pathogens aren't destroyed. Despite these disadvantages, anaerobic composting is the best way to go in some situations: You're looking to dispose of a one-time load of wet, potentially smelly, or pest-attracting kitchen waste, such as you'd accumulate after a day spent canning fruits or vegetables, cleaning freshly caught fish, or organizing a big social gathering that generates food scraps. Pulling spent garden plants at the end of fall leaves you with an enormous pile of organic matter that you don't have the space or time to manage over winter. Aboveground composting of kitchen scraps without a sealed container isn't allowed where you live. You aren't keen on the appearance of a compost area in your landscape, but you prefer not to send your organic waste to a landfill. You want to improve soil structure and fertility in a future garden bed. You don't have time to monitor the air or moisture requirements of an aboveground compost pile.

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