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How To Make Compose Fertilizer

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 11 minute read

To this day, composting is one of my favorite hobbies, shared with my spouse. We have a compost bin in the backyard where we put all of our food scraps and yard trimmings, and each year we obtain enough completed compost to use for fertilizing approximately half of our vegetable garden. My husband frequently hears the lament, “Gee, I wish I could do that,” from his friends and coworkers when he describes our living situation.

Some of them tell him they don’t have the time to construct and tend to a compost pile if he inquires as to why they are unable to do so. But other people claim they can’t because they don’t have a yard or because it’s too small. On occasion, people will also mention that the initial cost of constructing a compost bin is too high for the amount of vegetable waste they produce.

Not realizing that none of these issues is a deal breaker is understandable. Composting may be done in a variety of ways and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, time, or space. There’s a composting technique that will work for you even if you’re low on time, money, or space.

When left to its own devices, all plant stuff will rot. Composting is only one method for keeping this all-natural process under control. When organic matter decomposes, it turns into a black, crumbly material called humus, which may be used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer in gardens and other landscaping projects.

Composting Advantages

My husband’s coworkers frequently express their desire to start composting, and I can see why. It has several advantages for your garden, your money, and the planet.

  • Put simply, the fertilizer is free. Garden soil that has been amended with compost is better able to retain water and air. It enriches the soil and encourages strong root growth in your garden plants. All of these advantages are yours without cost when you compost at home. To buy the same amount of finished compost in bags at a garden shop would have cost us approximately $35, but our home compost bin generated roughly 50 gallons this year.
  • No Toxic Substances Used. Using commercial compost in your yard might really be harmful, as it may contain leftover levels of pesticides. The term “killer compost” is used to describe this issue. The composting process allows you to avoid using any potentially harmful chemicals.
  • Using resources more efficiently. The EPA estimates that 28 percent of your garbage is organic materials like food leftovers and yard debris. Putting garbage in the compost bin instead of setting it out at the curb can reduce your yearly trash collection fee by as much as 28 percent if your municipality uses a per-bag pricing structure.
  • Improved Soil Health. When you add compost to your garden soil, it improves in ways that commercial fertilizers can’t. Soil that has been amended with compost is more resistant to pests and illnesses, and it holds more water, so claims the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • A more sanitary Earth. In more ways than one, composting is a great method to help the environment. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is created during the decomposition of organic materials in landfills. Composting is an effective method of mitigating climate change since methane emissions from decomposing garbage are drastically reduced in a compost pile. Additionally, utilizing completed compost for gardening minimizes the need for chemical fertilizers that can damage the water supply and kill fish.

Composting’s Difficulties and Solutions

Why isn’t everyone composting if it’s so beneficial? According to my husband’s coworkers, the most common reason is that keeping a compost container at home takes too much labor.

  • Effort. Rather than just throwing everything away, it’s more efficient to divide food and garden waste into a distinct pile. That’s about all you’ll need to do, though, if you go with the right composting technique. It’s conceivable, but not strictly required, to put in a lot of work to develop and manage a compost pile that will quickly decompose your garbage.
  • Time. Waste cannot be converted into compost overnight. Even in the most basic compost pile, the transformation of potato peels into rich, black humus can take a year or more. This time can be reduced to weeks or even days with additional effort, such as by piling garbage in the pile, keeping it moist, and rotating it often.
  • Space. When it comes to composting, size matters. The Cornell Waste Management Institute recommends a minimum of three feet in length, breadth, and height for a compost pile in order to generate enough heat to kill germs and accelerate decomposition. Making compost in a pile is one option, but there are others. Some techniques of composting can be carried out in as little as a 5-gallon bucket placed in the dirt. Indoor composting is possible with either a worm bin (called vermicomposting – more on that below) or an electric digester (more on that below).
  • Money. Expensive composting equipment and materials, such as rotating bins and compost accelerators, may be purchased from garden supply shops. All of it is unnecessary for home composting, though. Our present compost bin was made by my husband using free shipping pallets and a few dollars’ worth of hardware.

What Can You Compost

A compost pile may be used for just about any form of vegetable scraps. You may compost not only plants and plant parts, but also paper, clean sawdust, and even dryer lint from natural-fiber clothing. Two to three times as much “brown materials” as “green materials” makes the best compost.

Brown Materials

Dry and carbon-rich, brown materials are abundant in nature. Instances of this include:

  • Items Made From Paper. Paper towel and paper towel rolls, as well as office paper, newspaper, and cardboard, may all be composted. If you want these items to decompose more quickly and not get matted in the trash can, shred them first. Eartheasy, a business selling organic goods, cautions its customers not to compost glossy paper or paper with colorful writing in their official compost guide.
  • Put Yard Debris in a Dry Dumpster. Leaves, pine needles, straw, and tiny twigs are examples of dry yard trash. Hay is also biodegradable, although it’s not recommended since the seeds might germinate in the compost. Even twigs and small branches can be added, however it will be some time before they decompose. Pine needles and black walnut leaves and twigs are both too acidic to use in significant quantities or as compost.
  • Unusable Wood. Compost may be made from a variety of resources, including wood chips, clean sawdust, and even ash from clean materials. However, all of these resources are quite rich in carbon, so employ caution while employing them.

Green Materials

Composting using green materials is beneficial because the nitrogen they provide is absorbed by the compost as they decompose. Instances of this include:

  • Discarded food from the kitchen. Compostable materials include vegetable and fruit scraps, used coffee grounds, used tea bags (with the staples removed), crushed nutshells, and crushed eggshells. Meat, bones, and fish scraps, on the other hand, should not be composted since they might attract bugs. You also shouldn’t put dairy or fatty items in the compost. Peels of conventionally grown fruits like oranges, peaches, and bananas may contain traces of pesticides.
  • Wet Leaf Littering and Yard Scraps. Herbicide-free grass clippings can be composted together with other green plant matter. Only non-seeding weeds should be added to the compost pile. If that’s the case, you may expect the seeds to germinate wherever you’ve applied the compost. You shouldn’t compost any plants that have signs of illness either.
  • Traces of Animal Excreta. Chicken manure, cow manure, horse manure, and rabbit manure may all be composted without worry. Actually, animal feces may serve as a great catalyst for composting. Their addition accelerates the decomposition of the remaining trash in the pile. If you want to use the completed compost on food crops, though, you shouldn’t add pet excrement. Diseases could be transmitted.

Making Compost Work for You

The best compost is made in a huge, well-constructed pile, with at least 3 feet on each side, into which green and brown materials are layered. They’ll also tell you that covering the compost pile will keep in heat, that watering it periodically will keep it wet, and that turning it over with a pitchfork will allow air to circulate through the pile, all of which will hasten the decomposition process.

My husband’s coworkers undoubtedly think they can’t do it since it sounds like a lot of work to them. Many people believe that composting at home is difficult unless they have a lot of time and space to devote to the process.

Though the optimum method of composting involves an actively maintained pile, it is by no means the only one. Compost can be made in a variety of ways, including open piles, closed bins, big piles, little piles, frequent turning, and passive “cold” composting. While some techniques are more time-efficient than others, any of them, given enough, may produce healthy, nutrient-dense compost.

Cold composting requires less effort.

Generating a huge pile, stacking greens and browns, and stirring the pile often are all part of the extensive instructions provided by most manuals for making compost, but the key aim is to keep the pile warm. Heating the compost to between 140 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit in its core eliminates weed seeds and pathogens, and doing so maintains the compost “cooking” for maximum efficiency in its decomposition.

Compost can be ready to use in as little as a few weeks or as long as a few months when using the “hot composting” approach. But if you can wait a year or two for your finished compost, the cold composting approach can save you a lot of time and effort. My husband and I employ this technique in our yard, and it couldn’t be easier to set up. Simply toss all veggie scraps into the compost bin and forget about them.

You may hasten the process by rotating the pile occasionally, but it will happen whether or not you do so. About a year had passed by the time we were able to harvest any compost, but when we did, it was every bit as black and rich as anything you could buy in a bag.

The cold composting process can be sped up for folks who are both sluggish and impatient. Use plenty of coarse materials like straw, hay, weeds, or even crumpled newspaper when you initially start building your compost pile. Distributing these ingredients uniformly throughout the pile creates air pockets that keep the compost aerated without the need for turning.

Enclosed Bins Take Up Less Space

A compost pile might be as little as a corner of your yard. Having a tiny yard? An enclosed bin is the perfect solution for keeping your pile restricted and tidy. Several prefabricated compost bin options may be found at local garden centers:

  • Stackable, Easily Accessible, Open-Top Bins. Composting in the open air requires little more than a box to hold plant material in one place as it decomposes. Wire mesh, wooden slats, or durable plastic with ventilation holes are all viable solutions. A modest mesh container from Gardeners’ Supply Company costs $40, while a big bin with a hinged cover costs $200. If you keep your compost in a bin like this, you’ll need to periodically open up one side to turn the pile.
  • Storage Bins with Lids Compost digesters (or fully enclosed bins) can be found for as little as $80 and as much as $300, depending on the complexity of the construction and number of chambers. Compost bins are often made of plastic and have an opening at the top for dumping garbage and a hatch or door at the base for extracting compost once it has decomposed. Since rain can’t get in, you’ll need to water the compost pile on your own to keep it damp if you’re using an enclosed container to keep pests out. Composting in an enclosed container, where it cannot be turned, slows down the decomposition process. Additionally, it requires less effort.
  • Tumblers for composting. Compost tumblers look like metal or plastic barrels fixed on a frame so they may spin freely. To use, you open the barrel’s hinged door, place trash inside, then close the door and rotate the barrel to move the pile. This design keeps in composting bacteria and keeps out rain and animals, but once the tumbler is full, you can’t add anything further to it. The costliest option is the tumbler, which may be anything from $100 for a basic plastic drum to $370 for a stainless steel one with two separate chambers.

DIY Composting Saves Money

To manufacture your own compost, you need not spend hundreds of dollars on a high-tech machine. Prefabricated containers and shakers can simplify the task considerably. However, if money is tight, a basic home system may be constructed for next to nothing.

An open compost pile is the most basic system. A little patch of yard is all that’s required for composting food scraps. However, if you wish to speed up the decomposition process by turning the pile with a pitchfork, it will take up quite a bit of space. An open compost pile isn’t appealing and doesn’t always smell great, so it has to be in a location that’s out of the way. 

Though composting yard debris in an open pile isn’t a problem, composting food scraps isn’t the best choice because it might attract rats. If you want to preserve your compost in one place, you may construct a simple container yourself:

  • Constructing a fence with wire. Compost bins can be as basic as a cylinder made from heavy-gauge wire fencing. The Spruce provides instructions on how to construct such a container. Wire fence, measuring 3 feet in height, may be purchased for roughly $50 per roll.
  • Lumber. For an open compost bin with dimensions of about 28 inches on each side, you’ll need eight 6-foot fence boards, one 10-foot two-by-four, and a box of screws, as shown in Vegetable Gardening with Loraine. The blogger who made it claims that the total cost of supplies was less than $50.
  • Pallets. Shipping pallets, which may be obtained for free from big-box companies that don’t want to pay to dispose of them, are another affordable but effective material for a compost bin. Simple instructions from Bob Vila are all you need to construct a container out of four pallets, six L-brackets, and two metal hinges. The hardware for this would cost you less than $10.
  • Rubbish Receptacle. A huge, heavy-duty, cylindrical garbage can may be purchased for under $10 and used as the basis for a fully enclosed, rodent-proof compost bin. As seen on Better Homes and Gardens, drill holes into the side for ventilation. Once the lid is on tight, you may roll the container back and forth on the ground to give your compost a good tumble.

Bottom Line

The manner you do it at home is up to you; there’s no “wrong” method to compost. How you go about it depends entirely on the means at your disposal.

Hot composting, in which green and brown trash are layered in a huge pile, kept moist, and turned often, yields quick results if you have the necessary time and space. Cold composting is a low-maintenance option, as you can simply dump everything in the bin and let it decompose on its own. You may make your own trash can out of low-cost components if you’re strapped for funds. And if you’re really strapped for room, you can always buy a worm bin or a little countertop digester to get rid of your food leftovers.

All of the plants in your home garden or landscaping will benefit from the final compost no matter which method you use. My husband and I incorporate ours into the soil before planting our veggie garden and any new plants. We’ve used it on a dozen different types of flowering perennials and annuals throughout the years, and they’re all doing great.

This includes six creeping phlox plants, three plum trees, five bush cherries, ten raspberry canes, and a dozen annuals and biennials. I don’t think the compost had anything to do with it, although it didn’t hurt.

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