Compost

We’ve scoured the web, sifted through the rubbish, and hand-picked the best tips and information on how to compost we could find. Enjoy!

We continually add to this section, so please check back often. Also, you can share tips and ask questions over at our Composting Forum page.

Compost Bin Buyer’s Guide

Compost TumblerThere’s something deeply satisfying about turning garbage into vegetables — or at least into compost, vegetables’ best friend. To get started all you need to do is collect a bunch of brown materials (leaves, sawdust, vegetable stalks), mix them together in a pile with plenty of green materials (grass clippings, vegetable scraps, garden waste), keep everything nice and moist (not wet), and voila! Compost.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is. It just doesn’t happen very quickly. Fortunately, compost bins can help, reducing decomposition time from several years to a single season or less.

Available in a large variety of shapes and sizes, composters are designed to help you produce compost more efficiently. They look great (okay, maybe not great, but a whole lot better than a heap of garbage in your back yard) and they speed up the decomposition process. Faster decomposition means more compost for your garden, which is good not only for your plants but also for the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that composting can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by as much as 24%. (more…)

Using Autumn’s Bounty

Autumn LeavesBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Leaves, easily turned into protective mulch, soil-enhancing leaf mold or rich compost, are the fall season’s gift to the composter. After the last tomatoes are picked, the standing greens harvested, the squash brought in and the carrots pulled, nature provides a bounty that assures the next year’s crops will have the best soil possible. Let your non-gardening neighbors curse autumn’s raking tasks. Composters rejoice in the piles of mineral-rich organic material that trees graciously shed just for them.

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little too much hyperbole. Still, it’s hard not to get poetic about leaves. Sure, raking can be hard work even for composters who know the value in each and every leaf. But leaves have long been a treasure for the gardeners: easily available, rich in nutrients, an effective mulch in winter and summer and, once decomposed, extremely beneficial to the soil. (more…)

Bokashi for Christmas

Bokashi CompostingYesterday after the big feast, your friendly and conservation-minded Planet Natural Blogger noticed something he notices every year at Thanksgiving: how much food is being discarded. The abundance made me think of all the foodstuff that becomes waste and how much methane it generates once in the landfill. And just like that, I had something to put at the top of my Christmas list: a Bokashi bucket!

Bokashi is a self-contained, anaerobic method of composting that accepts things that, for reasons of pests, varmints and sanitation, shouldn’t go into your regular compost heap. Bokashi is actually the bran or other grain meal that is innoculated with beneficial, highly active microbes that will turn food scraps into a useable compost tea. This tea is so potent you wouldn’t want to use it directly on plants right away. Instead it’s allowed to mellow over a period of a couple weeks, then diluted; or buried in your garden soil in increments that temper its life-boosting power. (more…)

Things We’ve Learned: Leaves

Autumn LeavesWe think of gardening as a never-ending learning process. Just when something makes sense, we learn something new — or remember some detail we’d forgotten — and suddenly, Doh!… we feel like Homer Simpson. Such is the case with using leaves in the garden. We used to have so many. We’d heap up our compost piles and spread them over our garden. One not-so-bright day in November we decided that if we turned them into the soil they wouldn’t blow around as much. And, come spring, they’d decompose faster into the soil, enriching it with mineral-rich humus. Win-win!

No, lose. Even though we knew that carbon-rich materials use up nitrogen as they break down, we didn’t put it together with our garden soil, which of course we wanted to be nitrogen-rich. By turning those leaves into the soil, we were guaranteeing that we’d be losing some nitrogen for next growing season. Same thing happens with other carbon-rich materials: wood chips, sawdust, pine needles; even shredded paper and cardboard if you’re using it. Turning them directly into the soil will deplete nitrogen. (more…)

Composting Big

Turning Compost PileLike it or not, here comes autumn and its bounty of leaves, garden refuse, and other compostable materials. If you’re just getting into composting — or your bin or tumbler won’t hold all of fall’s organic bounty — it’s time to think big. A large compost pile or bin — and a little patience — will reward you down the road with more compost. And that means more benefits for your lawn and garden.

Large compost bins need to do more than just hold vast quantities of compostable materials. They need to breathe, provide easy access for turning, and be located close to where you’ll be using your compost. And it must be remembered that large amounts of materials will take a longer period of time. We like to think in terms of threes, since, in our experience, these really large heaps take three years, more or less, to turn to a rich soil amendment. The three-bin compost bin, often left open in the front seems perfect. Fresh materials are put in the first bin and are turned into the second after several months. The half-way materials in the second bin are then turned into the third bin where they can be harvested as needed. (more…)

Compost In the Xeriscape

Steaming Compost PilesIt seems that no matter the problem we face in our gardens, the answer — or at least a part of the answer — frequently includes compost. This is certainly true in xeriscape gardening, the process of using minimal moisture effectively. Soil conditioning is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping. Soil that retains moisture while still allowing moisture to move through it is the goal. While there are many amendments that can be added to particular kinds of soil — clay or coarse — to help them conduct and retain moisture properly, the first and best step (because it also adds valuable microorganisms to the soil) is composting. (more…)

Composting Paper

Shredded PaperIn a previous post, we recommended adding paper or cardboard to a compost heap that’s too moist. Paper will absorb water as well as provide short-term air space to aide in circulation if it’s crumpled. That suggestion, as pointed out by one of our more careful readers, brought up an entirely different subject: is composting paper safe? The answer is yes. And no.

Paper — made from wood pulp — seems a likely addition to compost because of its source: nature. Newspapers have long been held as a good source of “brown” component in the brown-green, carbon-nitrogen balance that compost piles need (so much so that adding too much paper will tip the balance). But paper might also contain some harmful ingredients in the form of inks, dyes and other treatments. These days, most newspaper inks are soy-based, a good thing for the environment (though the soy used in inks is likely from GMO sources). But some inks may still contain petro-chemicals or pigments if they include color as most papers do. Also newsprint may hold some chlorine from the bleaching process. Newspaper is bleached less than most commercial office papers but may still contain some chlorine. (more…)

Managing Moisture In Compost

Compost PileThe record drought locked on many (and we mean many) parts of the country calls for home gardeners as well as commercial interests to rethink their watering strategies. Equally important to organic gardeners is the moisture content of their composting pile. Moisture in compost is critical and having too much or too little can slow or sour the process. Having too little will slow or stop the composting process. Having too much moisture in the pile will fill the necessary air spaces and turn the process into an anaerobic digester something most garden composters want to avoid (though it is an accepted composting technique with its own set of requirements). (more…)

Compost for Summer Lawns

Lawns and CompostThe arrival of summer reminds us that it’s not too late to nourish your lawn the healthy way with compost. As lawn-spraying services expand their grip on suburbia it’s important to remember that using organic practices to encourage grass in your yard protects your pets and family from harmful chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Spreading compost on lawns now — not too deep; you don’t want to smother the grass blades — will help it stay lush and weed-free by nourishing the soil beneath it. It will greatly increase beneficial microbial activity in your soil, benefiting your lawn even more. And it’s a good way to treat the spots in your lawn that are thin, brown and unhealthy. (more…)

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