Starting A Compost Pile
How would you like some used tea bags, melon rinds, and crushed eggshells for dinner? Yum! Your kitchen refuse might not seem appetizing to you, but for millions of microorganisms, it's a tasty treat. Fungi, insects, bacteria, and earthworms break down waste material in the composting process. They produce humus, a rich fertilizer for your plants that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Spreading the humus around your garden enriches your soil.
Building Your Pile
For your first foray into composting, there is no need to get elaborate. The easiest option is to find a spot in your yard that is mostly hidden from view but easily accessible to the kitchen and to start piling. You can create a baling wire or wood cage for your pile if you would like to keep it tidier.
Starting your compost pile is a lot like assembling a dish of lasagna. The key for both is to layer. Your layering ingredients should include green, nitrogen-rich materials, such as garden waste and grass clippings, and brown, carbon-rich materials like fallen leaves and good garden soil. Shovel on a brown layer, then a green layer, and so on. Ideally, there should be about twice as much brown material as green.
What Not to Add
Most kitchen and garden waste makes great composting material, but there are some exceptions:
- Animal fats, oils, and meat. They can get rancid and attract undesirables, like rats.
- Dog and cat droppings in compost can spread disease.
- Diseased plants and weeds that are going to seed. If your compost pile doesn't get hot enough, you run the risk of not killing the plant diseases and weed seeds.
- Plants treated with weed killers. The weed killers can stick around and damage your garden when the finished compost is applied to it.
Heat and moisture are key ingredients for keeping your pile cooking. If you maintain your pile vigilantly, you could be shoveling out rich humus in around two months.
About the Author
Kate McIntyre is a writer in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Oregon State University.