Composting Made Easy
Written by: Dottie Baltz
Composting isn't difficult. My compost pile is just a large pile in the corner of our rural property. It doesn't get a huge amount of sun, especially in the summer, yet I have beautiful useable compost every year to give back to my garden. First I will talk about the basics of composting, and then I will go into what you can do if you live in an area that doesn't allow compost piles.
Composting is the act of decomposing organic matter. Decomposition is happening around us all the time, composting is just a way to speed up the process. The queen of composting is definitely Mother Nature. You can see her work anytime you dig up soil from a forest floor.
Why would you want to compost? Well the most important reason, for me, is that it helps the environment by keeping organic matter out of the landfills and instead, returning it back to the soil. Plants take nutrients from the soil to grow, so you need to return those nutrients and the best way to do that, is in the form of compost. Using compost also introduces beneficial microbes into the soil and is a great soil conditioner. If you have to pay by the bag for your garbage, you can reduce your waste by 25% or more by composting.
If that's not reason enough for you, then consider this. You can save tons of money on fertilizer as well. I rarely purchase commercial fertilizers anymore. When I do, it's usually an organic fertilizer for the vegetable garden since some vegetables are such heavy feeders. If you want large yields, you usually need to supplement with fertilizer, especially if you garden in a small area, like I do.
So, you've decided that composting is a good idea, what's next? Location
Look for a location that gets partial sun, is out of the way, yet still convenient to use. You will need an area with good drainage that is at least three feet by 3 feet. If you have a lot of dry weather during the summer months, you may also want it close to a water supply. Whatever you decide, make sure there is good air circulation. For example, you wouldn't want the pile up against a building or fence.
If you have a Homeowners Association that doesn't allow compost piles, you may want to talk to them about possibly altering the rules or providing a space for a community compost pile. Later in this article, I'll talk about ways to compost that are usually permitted by Homeowner Associations.
At this point, you can build a compost bin, or purchase one, but it's really not necessary unless you want to hide the pile in some way. An inexpensive bin can be constructed of three wooden shipping pallets. Pallets are perfect because you can get them for free from many businesses and they have air circulation built right in because the slats are spaced a short distance apart from each other. Just screw the pallets together in a "U" shape and place on the ground. If you are having trouble finding them for free, consider joining your local Freecycle group and posting a want ad for free pallets. You'll be surprised at how many responses you will get.
Once you have picked your location, you may want to remove the grass that is there to help keep weeds out of the compost pile. Or you can just do what I do and place several layers of black/white newspaper on top of the ground. Wet the newspaper with water and add some grass clippings, straw, or shredded leaves to keep the newspaper from blowing away. This step is not absolutely necessary, but if you don't have a lot of organic matter to add to the pile at first, this is a good way to keep the weeds out until the pile gets big enough to block them on its own.