Gardening & More: Getting started with composting to keep your garden growing all year ‘round
Now that I compost leaves, yard waste and kitchen scraps, I find I have great organic material to add to my gardens - for free!
If you don’t have a compost bin yet, now is the time to start.
Composting can be as simple or intricate as you want to make it. Plant material decomposes on its own, without our help, every day.
The simplest way to get started composting is to rake dead leaves into one spot.
How do you keep the leaves from blowing around your yard? Many people build retaining walls for their compost pile, or they buy a bin.
I compost in garbage cans. One advantage of using garbage cans with tight-fitting lids is that I can also compost kitchen scraps without attracting mice and rats.
In addition to these simple and inexpensive containers, there are many kinds of bins you can buy or make for composting. The type you choose depends on how patient you are, how much control you want to exert over the composting process and how complicated you want your composting to become.
Today I’ll tell you how to set up a simple composting system. You have to be patient; it may take a year or longer to get good compost. However, there is not much that you have to do during that year except add things to the bin and wait.
Begin with a garbage can that has a tight-fitting lid. If you have dead leaves, spread a layer of them in the bottom of the can. If you do not have leaves, use dead ornamental grasses, flower stems and twigs that you need to clean out of your garden. If you do not have those, either, add some shredded newspaper.
Next, add kitchen scraps. This is why you need a tight-fitting lid– you don’t want to attract rodents.
Sprinkle some dirt over the top. The dirt contains microbes that will help the decomposition process.
End with another layer of leaves. Repeat the process every time you add kitchen scraps.
Inside the house, I keep my kitchen scraps in a large plastic margarine tub with a lid. In this weather, I may actually wait two or three days before I take the scraps out to the compost bin. In warmer weather, you must do it every day.
Here is what you can use in the compost bin:
- Peels from potatoes, carrots, onions, bananas, oranges, etc. Some people say that citrus peels are hard to break down, but I use them anyway.
- Apple cores and other parts of fruits and vegetables.
- Corn cobs, which break down nicely.
- Egg shells.
- Coffee grounds with the filter.
- Tea bags with the string and tag.
- Disease-free cuttings from your indoor plants.
- Disease-free garden plants.
- Dust from vacuum cleaner bags.
- Paper, such as used cupcake holders, used wax paper, cardboard egg cartons, the paper sacks from sugar or flour, wrapping paper and tissue paper.
- Pine cones and sticks. These take a long time to break down.
Sawdust is said to slow down the rate that your compost decomposes, but if you’re not in a hurry, I think a compost bin is a great way for woodworkers to recycle such material. I throw in shavings from my pencil sharpener.
While you could compost lawn clippings, they’re good for your lawn, so you might as well just leave them there. If we get large clumps of grass clippings because the grass got very long between mowings, I will add the clumps to the compost bin.
You can compost newspaper and mail, but I prefer to just recycle them. I compost any paper that can’t be recycled, such as the items in the last bullet of the list. If you use newspaper to keep down weeds, compost it when you’re finished. Rip the paper or shred it so it will break down more quickly.
Here are some things to leave out of your compost bin:
- Meat, which harbors unhealthy bacteria.
- Pet wastes. Pathogens could contaminate your vegetables.
- Weeds, especially if you can see seeds.
- Diseased plants.
- Plants treated with weed killer.
- Anything toxic. If you do not want it something to be your garden, do not put it into your compost bin!
Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.