How to start composting

Gardeners, if you haven’t learned to compost for fertilization, fall is a perfect time to start. Why? To take advantage of all those fallen leaves of course!

Why compost?

Composting is an economical and environmentally friendly way to fertilize your soil. It makes for the richest growing soil available as it is rich in potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen.

You are essentially duplicating Mother Nature’s plan for the most lush forests and natural gardens.

A gardener who composts greatly helps the environment by reusing what is otherwise treated as “garbage” and just rotting away in landfills and landfills.

It is estimated that such waste material takes up about a third of the space in our municipal landfills. Why not put this material to good use and use it to grow our lawns and gardens?

Do you need special equipment?

A paper shredder comes in handy for your projects. This will shrink your material for easier storage on the go, and inexpensive gas or electric shredders are available, especially if you shop online.

If you decide to buy a machine, I suggest you spend a little more on a product with a little more power than you think you need (trust me – you will use it) and get something that will last a while, like this Earthquake Chipper/Shredder.

It’s the one I use and I can vouch for its performance and construction.

Earthquake 9060300 Wood Chipper with 205cc 4 Stroke Briggs and Stratton Engine

Then make sure you have enough bags and bins to store your composted material. You probably want a large bucket in the kitchen especially for organic waste. Make sure the bucket has a tight lid to keep animals and insects out.

You can also find great offers for waste bins online. There are also beakers for efficiently mixing your organic matter.

You’ll also find a compost thermometer handy to make sure your piles are breaking down efficiently.

What material can you use?

Fall leaves are perfect for composting. Rake them and save them to shred later, or shred them as you go.

Almost anything organic can be used. In the kitchen, it may take some time to condition your family, but you’ll quickly get into the habit of using the compost pile.

There you can store eggshells (crushed), corn cobs (shredded), husks, husks, peanut shells, and coffee grounds. Dairy and meat products can be used, but they will start to smell so when you use them you’ll want to bury them in your bucket under everything else – and make sure to use the lid!

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You can put liquids like kitchen rinse water in the container, but you need to make sure they are centered to encourage the other materials to rot.

For most household compost piles, you should avoid oil, fish, bones, or fat. They don’t decompose efficiently and are more likely to cause an unpleasant odor than help your garden.

That said, in very large piles, fish and even bones will break down and are great for fertilization as well as providing much needed calcium for the plants. So if your pile is really big, go for it!

Other common household materials

If you have pets, you may be tempted to use their feces, fur, or hair.

While manure from many farmyard animals can be great for fertilization, most pets are usually disease carriers, even if the animal itself is not sick, and it’s not wise to use their feces in your mixture.

Hair is fine, but it should be fairly well spread out and should not be left in clumps.

Dead houseplants can be used, but they must be handled with care and this is somewhat impractical. You don’t want a diseased plant near a living plant that is related.

To kill disease, the plant must be exposed to heat and allowed to rot for several months. Certain types of diseased plants affected by highly contagious pathogens, such as tree limbs suffering from blight, should be burned immediately.

You can use your dryer’s lint in compost. You can use finely shredded newsprint in your material, but be sure to get the slick color pages out. If you have a lot, you better recycle it.

Small amounts of ashes from fireplaces or wood stoves can be added to your pile. Limit your ash consumption to two gallons per 3x3x3 container.

Don’t use charcoal ash, as it doesn’t decompose and the sulfur and iron it contains can damage your plants.

Garden waste

If you live in an area with a lot of pine trees, you’ll be relieved to know you can shred these and use them! They rot slowly, so be sure to chop or shred them as finely as possible.

Grass is a great source of nitrogen, so it is highly desirable in your mixture as long as it does not contain any additives or pesticides.

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If you want to use grass clippings in your mixture, make sure it’s not grass that has been sprayed or treated and that you’ve spread it out on your driveway or other surface to dry for at least a day.

It needs to be baked in the sun and have the consistency of straw before it’s ready to add to your pile. It should then be mixed with some brown compost material to prevent it from clumping and smelling.

If you live near the ocean, you can use seaweed and it’s even known as one of the best sources of nutrients for your soil. Make sure you have rinsed off the salt well first.

If you use weeds, hay or old garden plants in your compost, make sure they are dried. If you have a smaller pile, don’t use weeds with large root systems or weeds that will go to seed.

This may go without saying, but some people who have thoroughly aged their piles and not gotten it to a high enough temperature have been known to burden their own future gardens with recycled weed material.

However, if your pile is large, kept moist, and given some air circulation, it will generally get hot enough to kill the seeds.


Herbivorous animal manure is excellent composting material. Unlike your garden, you don’t have to age the manure. Just alternate layers in a pile of leaves or straw.

This fresh manure provides sufficient nitrogen, which allows the beneficial bacteria to break down the cellulose in the fiber and convert it into lignin. Lignin is one of the main components of soil and is partly responsible for that “earthy” smell we all love.

This material works in a similar way to peat moss in that it allows for good airflow and drainage in the soil, yet retains moisture for trouser roots to draw on during drier periods.

Where to place the stack

You want your pile on top of the lawn or soil so you can take advantage of the worm activity. Place it on a flat surface where there is enough sun to dry it out. You want it sheltered from the wind, and probably from your neighbours!

Large black bins are available that allow solar heat to be collected and composted during the winter months. Three sided shelters often work well too – you can use concrete blocks or fences to build.

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When to compost

Composting schedules often differ due to regional weather conditions. If your area suffers from cold winters, you’ll want to start your pile in the spring.

However, if you have a very large pile, it is possible to create warm enough conditions for the heat-loving bacteria that precipitate the material to thrive even in northern climates.

Mix the material

The effectiveness of your stack depends on the air circulation through it and its temperature. It must be aerated. You can mix it periodically with a large garden fork, or you can just stack tree branches or pipes vertically.

Your compost pile should be between 104 and 131 degrees F. Optimally, you should only rotate the stock if it is below 104 or above 131 degrees. This keeps the heat uniform and ensures that the pile decomposes in the most efficient way.

The process can take up to a year or two, so you should be prepared to wait for the decomposition to be fully completed.

When and how to use the compost

You can tell that your compost has broken down properly if you can see very few pieces of material. It should have a crumbly consistency and be dark brown in color.

If you are trying to build a lawn from scratch, you can use up to four inches of compost before spreading the seeds or laying the sod. You can plan to maintain the lawn annually with a thin layer of one-quarter to one-half inch.

Your normal time to use the product is spring and summer during your regular gardening season.

In a garden, compost can be worked into the top six inches of soil before planting, or a layer up to an inch thick can be sprinkled on top of an existing garden.

It will continue to decompose in the soil. It can also be used when planting individual plants and around your shrubs and trees.

You can also dress it around existing plantings – the earthworms and other creepy critters will eventually get a good chunk of it into the soil.

If you make the decision to compost, know that you are using the most natural method of gardening and that you are doing the earth a great favor. Happy composting!

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