How to Start Composting

Gardening

Now that your lasagna garden is all set up you have all these leaves leftover because you went overboard collecting them. This is a perfect time to start a a compost pile. Don’t get too lazy and just throw the leaves in a pile somewhere though, it could make extra work for you later.  Just read this quickly and think about it for a couple minutes.

The first step in composting is to choose a good spot.  The bacteria living in your pile, that are breaking it down for you, need warmth and moisture.  Therefore, choose a location where you get a little of both.  You want it to get some sun to warm it up and some water from the rain so you don’t have to water it yourself.  My pile is at the edge of the tree cover in my yard, right at the border of my garden.  That way it is in the sun part of the day but can still get rained on.  Another option is to put it anywhere you have some room in the sun, water it when it gets dry, and cover it with a tarp to retain the moisture.  I always go for the choice with the least effort and I think that tarps are ugly, so I don’t use this option.  One other consideration for location is effort to get things to and from the pile.  I mentioned that my pile was at the edge of my garden.  This makes for less work in the spring when I am the busiest.  I have to walk further in the fall when I am raking leaves, but that time of the year isn’t as busy so I don’t mind. Finished compost is also much heavier than a pile of leaves.

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The top layer of my new compost pile

Now that you have a spot set up for your compost pile, what do you put in it?  You need a good mixture of green and brown materials.  Green materials are things like grass clippings and fruit and vegetable scraps.  Brown materials are leaves and papers.  This combination is again to support the bacteria you are trying to get to work for you.  They need certain nutrients that are available from the different materials.  Carbon is in the browns and the greens are for nitrogen.  The suggested ratio is 25 parts carbon to one part nitrogen.  If you have too much nitrogen, don’t worry, it will just smell a little funny.  If you have too much carbon, the pile won’t break down very well.  You can always add other things to your pile like wood ash, seaweed, shells, etc if you need other nutrients for your soil but these are the basics.

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