Homegrown: Starting a Compost Pile

You’ve probably noticed now you’ve switched to a plant-based diet that you have a lot less waste from prepackaged food, but a lot more food scraps. These biodegrade fairly quickly, but instead of sending them to a landfill, why not convert them into organic compost for your yard or garden?

Adding compost to your garden is a great way to add nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to your soil and to condition fine soils, like clay, that tend to clump. Not only can you use food scraps for compost, you can also add some general household waste to your compost pile if you do so carefully. Cardboard, paper, dryer lint (especially from natural fabrics), and wood ashes can all be composted.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

If you’re starting a new compost pile, do so on bare earth; this allows earthworms and other organisms to access the contents of your compost pile easily and facilitate breakdown. Start with a layer of twigs, straw, or cornstalks, as these materials will allow air to get to the bottom of your pile.

You’ll want to alternate moist, often nitrogen-rich items, like food scraps, manure, and grass clippings, with dry, carbon-rich items, like wood ashes, cardboard, and sawdust. A healthy compost pile will usually have a balance of about one-third nitrogen-rich content to two-thirds carbon-rich content.

Keep your compost pile moist, either with rainfall or an occasional hosing if the weather is dry. Also keep it covered, as heat and moisture are key ingredients in the composting process. Too much moisture is just as problematic as too little. Every few weeks, stick a pitchfork in and turn your pile to aerate it. Oxygen is necessary for the composting process, and turning the pile will expose it to the air, hastening the process. Add additional materials by mixing them in.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Smaller pieces compost more quickly, so consider chopping or breaking up larger items. If you compost sawdust or grass clippings, make sure these are spread thinly and aren’t allowed to sit in piles or clumps, as this will slow the composting process considerably. Covering your food scraps with an inch or two of grass clippings or sawdust will help prevent odors and discourage flies.

Something to consider when planning a location for your compost pile is the location of future garden spaces or planting areas. If you have plans to turn a particular spot into a veggie garden or a flowerbed, but you know you won’t get to it this year, plop your compost pile there now. Then when you are ready to plant, you’ll already have an abundance of compost to mix in with your existing soil.