How To Make Your Own Compost: Compost Ingredients

To understand how to make your own compost, you need to understand the process of decomposition.

When a living creature dies (plant or animal), bacteria go to work immediately, eating at their own private buffet.

Insects, fungi, predators and worms continue the process of turning the creature into its most basic parts.

These bacteria, insects, fungi, predators and worms give off waste products, which are also eaten by bacteria, insects and fungi of different kinds.

Eventually, the original creature becomes part of the soil, enriching it and giving it fertility.

The process of decomposition happens whether or not you compost and is going on all around you, even in your own refrigerator, if you leave something in there too long!

What you're doing when you make your own compost is to harness the process to enrich your garden.

Compost can be made anywhere, because it's a natural process. You don't have to have a special bin or pile or heap or tumbler, but these tools do help to contain your compost ingredients and make the whole thing look nicer.

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Good compost ingredients

The ideal compost recipe, like any other, has ingredients:

  • "Greens": Greens are high in nitrogen and speed up decomposition -- kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, weeds, urine, vegetable peelings, green twigs, manure, etc.
  • "Browns": wood scraps, sawdust, straw, animal bedding, dry twigs, shredded junk mail, newspaper, cardboard, dry dead plants, etc. These ingredients provide body to your compost, cover otherwise objectionable-looking items, and soak up odors.
  • Air, and
  • Water

Decomposition is a chemical process, so all the ingredients need to be there, each in its proper proportion, for the process to work.

If you have all four of these ingredients in balance, your compost will "cook down" nicely, leaving you with a dark, rich soil that's perfect for planting in.

Anything that has once been alive can be composted: hair, nail clippings, used tissues, tea bags, and egg shells are some that people forget about.

What you shouldn't compost generally falls into three categories:

  • Never was alive: plastic, glass, and metal won't decompose, so don't bother. They won't hurt your compost pile, but they won't help either.
  • Has been chemically altered so much that it could harm your compost pile. For example, tanned leather and glossy newsprint probably shouldn't be composted. Recycle those things instead.
  • Contain germs that could be harmful to you: the big two are dog feces and cat litter. Dispose of these in your regular trash, or if you must compost them (garbage strike, etc.), do so in a separate area and use the resulting compost on non-edible plants.

Meat and bones are a controversy. Most people say not to compost these, for the simple reason that they could attract vermin.

I compost these on a regular basis and have never had problems (aside from the occasional mouse, which the local hawks love to swoop in on), but if your area has problems with large animals like feral pigs or bears invading gardens then don't compost bones and meat!

It's better to be safe than sorry.

The best composting process comes from an equal ratio of brown and green ingredients. Compost should be kept moist yet given plenty of air circulation. Air circulation can be obtained in many ways:

  • placing large sticks throughout the compost
  • putting crumpled paper or cardboard in to provide air pockets
  • periodically "turning" or stirring the compost ingredients
  • designing your compost holder with lots of holes in it (such as a wire bin)
  • or some combination of the above.

How much you water, of course, depends on your climate. Soggy compost ingredients will become smelly; completely dry compost ingredients will decompose very slowly or not at all.

In extremely wet or dry climates, putting a tarp over the compost will help keep in/out moisture.

Here's a helpful video from about making compost:

This is a good article (also from GrowVeg):

How to Compost – Easy Steps to Success

As you can see, it's not difficult to make your own compost, but it does require a bit of attention to the process. And once you learn how to make your own compost, you can not only save a lot of money but have fun doing it.

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