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Beginner Gardening Tips. Making Garden Compost

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We are now going to delve into one of the most exciting and satisfying garden related jobs. Making Garden Compost. This can be as easy or difficult a task as you may wish for. Very easy if done correctly, but also very easy to completely stuff up. Firstly I will give you a brief list of four different composting methods that suit from small to large gardens.

1. Hot Composting

2. Anaerobic Composting

3. Composting Barrels

4. Composting buckets

There are many other ways to available for making garden compost, however I have chosen the four that are easiest for the beginner gardener.

HOT COMPOSTING:

Hot composting, as the name implies, means creating compost through generating heat in a pile of organic matter. To do this successfully you need to firstly understand about carbon to nitrogen ratios’

There have been many methods of hot composting developed over the years but basically you simply need to have the correct mix of Carbon and nitrogen in the pile to generate the correct heat needed to not only kill weeds and bad pathogens, but also to produce the good bacteria that will help break the ingredients down into a usable rich compost.

In the hot composting method, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the compost materials needs to be between 25 to 30 parts carbon to one-part nitrogen by weight. Now these numbers can be very confusing so personally I don’t take too much notice of them. Instead, I have learned over many years to develop a, ‘what works for me approach’.

Let’s have a look at the basic ingredients required for hot composting and which ones are carbon or nitrogen based.

1. Carbon. These are materials that are high in carbon and are usually the “brown” ingredients, such as dead leaves, cardboard, straw, dead twigs or other woody materials. Carbon material normally rots down slowly.

2. Nitrogen. Materials that are high in nitrogen are typically moist, green materials, such as /grass clippings, weeds, fruit and vegetable scraps, animal manure, coffee grounds. They all have one thing in common, they break down very quickly.

It s easy to get to carried away with worrying about the correct mix for these materials so I’ll discuss how I go about it further along. Firstly, In order to produce a good compost you will need a good compost bin. There are many styles and designs of these bins available, but I have a simple design that I utilize on my property.

 

The picture above is of a series of three composting bins all made of pallets. This is the method I use, it’s simple, cheap and strong. If you have enough room on you’re property, this is the ideal setup.

Getting back to the actual mix. There are two easy methods available to you.

1. Layering.

This is where you add different layers to the compost until you reach a height of approximately three to four feet (1 meter). These layers will consist of the carbon and nitrogen based materials already mentioned above.

This is the method I use.

I simply alternate layers of Brown and Green ingredients. I will place about 3 or 4 inches of brown materials such as leaves and thin twigs in the base of my bin and then put in about 1 inch of manure, usually cow or horse, as it’s the easiest to obtain, followed by another three to four inches of green materials such as lawn clippings and vegetable scraps. Then I repeat this process until my pile has reached the desired height I mentioned earlier.

The quicker you can get you’re pile to the correct height the quicker it will generate heat. Make sure you slightly wet each layer with a hose as you progress. Don’t make the mix to wet or it will end up anaerobic (see below). The composting humus should have the consistency of a wet cloth that has been wrung out.

You will need to turn you’re pile after about 4 to 5 days into the second bin, this is to keep the heat generating in the pile. If the pile seems a little dry, give it another sprinkle of water with the hose. Remember not to saturate it.

One week later turn it back into bin number one and then one week later again, turn it into the third bin. You can then leave it the third bin for a few weeks after which time and you should have a lovely, crumbly, dark compost ready to use on the garden.

Having have completed the final turning into bin three you can then start the whole process again with new materials in bin one.

Not everyone will agree with my method but it works for me. The success of the whole composting process can depend on several factors.

. Getting the mix right.

. Rain. Should you experience lots of rain you may need to cover it to prevent saturation

. Extreme heat. If you experience very hot and dry weather the compost may dry out too much and not actually rot. In this case you may need to spray the heap with water a little more often.

WARNING: If you cover you’re heap with black plastic, keep an eye out for snakes. I had an occasion when my wife and I went to check our bins. My wife went to remove the plastic but before she did I caught a slight movement beneath it. I carefully removed the plastic and found a snake had curled up and made it’s home there. So be always watchful.

2. Mulching or shredding the ingredients.

I have a friend who prefers this method of hot composting. In this situation you place the dry ingredients, such as leaves, and the green ones, such as grass, on you’re lawn and shred it using the lawn mower with the catcher attached.

You would then add manure gradually sifting it through the material as you empty the catcher in the bin. You will then continue to turn the pile as you would in the layering process.

PRO’S FOR USING THE HOT COMPOSTING METHOD:

1. It’s a clean process which doesn’t develop any offensive odors.

2. It’s a very Quick method of producing good clean compost.

3. You are able to produce large quantities of compost continually.

4. When the process is successfully completely it is safe to handle materials.

CON’S FOR USING THE HOT COMPOST METHOD:

1. The bins can take up a lot of room. So the process is not ideal for a small property.

2. Snakes can be attracted by the black plastic when looking for a home, should you choose to use it.

3. The material may not compost if left to dry, not turned quick enough or made to wet.

ANAEROBIC COMPOSTING:

Wikipedia describes Anaerobic as meaning :

“living, active, occurring, or existing in the absence of free oxygen”, as opposed to aerobic which means “living, active, or occurring only in the presence of oxygen.”

In the case of anaerobic composting, It is the biological breakdown of organic materials by living anaerobic organisms such as bacteria. These organisms thrive in a complete oxygen free environment.

Unfortunately this method of composting is not ideal to use in a confined area such as a suburban block. Why? Because it stinks. The smell can be very off-putting and I’m sure you’re neighbors wouldn’t appreciate it.

It is an easy way to make compost because you simply use the same materials as those I mentioned in “Hot Composting”, the difference being that you add about 70% water to the mix and then cover it with plastic and leave it alone.

If you check it in about a months time and it’s becoming slimy, then you’re on the right track. If not, then add more water. In one year you should have a damp compost that’s ideal to add to you’re garden.

PRO’S FOR USING ANAEROBIC COMPOSTING:

1. It’s the easiest Compost to make.

2. It produces more of the finished product, compost, then other methods.

3. The finished product contains higher levels of ammonium. This is because anaerobic microbes use less nitrogen than aerobic microbes.

4. Produced on a large scale it is an efficient way to produce bio gas. However, I won’t explain this any further as it’s not relevant to the average gardener.

CONS.

1. You must allow anaerobic compost time to decompose, if you don’t allow at least one year as mentioned above, the mix may contain harmful pathogens. With Hot composting, the heat generated kills those pathogens, however with anaerobic composting you must rely on beneficial microbes to complete the job. If you allow enough time for this process to be completed, the beneficial microbes will over power the harmful pathogens.

2. It takes a long time to produce the finished product.

3. It Smells.

 

COMPOSTING BARRELS: TUMBLER

There are two main types of composting bins available and many variants of these two are available to purchase.

The first of these is the ‘Tumbler’ or ‘Rotating’ barrel. As the name implies, these barrels sit in a frame with an axle going through the center allowing them to be turned by a handle at the front.

The tumbler barrels are ideal for smaller gardens.

Locate you’re compost tumbler in a shady spot and not in direct sunlight. The ideal spot to place them in the garden is in a convenient, easily accessible position, not to far from the garden beds, water hose and the kitchen door.

When you have the tumbler situated in a position you’re happy with you can start the composting process. Again you will need access to the materials described earlier. Start with some brown ingredients, followed by green materials of equal proportion. The only difference with a tumbler is that the finer you can chop up the materials the faster you’re composting process will be.

It’s not always easy to be precise with you’re measurements, but I suggest that it if you can’t be exact, that is 50% of each, being carbon and nitrogen, then I would aim for a higher brown proportion. Too much green can lead to unpleasant odors.

Some people like to add a handful of completed compost, or garden soil, to their bins before adding the other ingredients. It’s believed that the good bacteria will help activate the composting process. I have found that shredding a couple of comfrey plant leaves and adding them is also beneficial

When you have enough material, give it a light spray with water. Then close the barrel and turn it several times to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Reopen the bin and check that the material is damp but not saturated. Should you experience lots of rain looks to dry give it another spray of water. Continue this process until you are satisfied that the ingredients are well mixed and has the consistency of a wrung out sponge.

Turn the barrel several times at least once a week. Each time you do this you should open the barrel to check that you have the correct moisture level. Add more water if the mix is to dry but if it looks a bit to wet or is starting to smell, add more dry brown ingredients. Stop adding to the mixture once the barrel becomes difficult to turn. At this stage you simply turn it once a week for about a month, after which time you should have a beautiful, sweet smelling, black compost mix.

==>If you would like to know more about composting barrels, click here<==

PRO’S FOR USING THE COMPOSTING TUMBLER:

1). Ease of use and placement.

2) Very clean.

3). Great for small gardens.

4). Makes good compost.

CON’S FOR USING THE COMPOSTING BARRELL:

1). Not enough compost can be produced for an average to large garden

2). You need to remember to turn the handle once a week.

 

COMPOSTING BARRELS: FREE STANDING

The second type of composting barrel is the one that stands on the ground and is ventilated on the side. I want spend too much time on this type as it’s one I like to call the ‘Black Hole’. These ‘stand on the ground’ bins come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are usually made from strong plastic. They are simple to use in that you simply open the lid and add ingredients from the top, thees ingredients can be a balance of brown and green but you don’t need to be too precise. The composting process is supposedly enhanced by the ventilation slots on the sides of the bins. Having have the bin full you can harvest the material from the bottom through a small access door.

I call this type of unit the ‘ Black Hole’ because you can continue to place ingredients into the barrel from the top but it never seems to fill up. We had one many years ago that never actually produced compost and never filled after five years of use.

PRO’S FOR COMPOSTING BARRELS : FREE STANDING:

1. Ideal for very small or terrace gardens                            =>Like to know more about Composting Bins<=

CON’S FOR COMPOSTING BARRELS: FREE STANDING:

1. To small for most gardens.

2. Materials tend to fall into a ‘Black Hole’.

Not An Exhaustive list:

The information I have given you here on composting is by no means exhaustive. There are many other types of composting methods available, most however are for much larger properties than you’re average suburban garden. I have attempted to keep my descriptions and lists of the methods of composting down to those that I believe will benefit most people and are simple to understand.

To recap. I have stated that the four most popular methods for composting are.

1. Heaps.. Usually in the form of Anaerobic or Hot composting. These are contained within walls of either pallets (As Shown)), other timber products, metal roofing sheets or wire netting. These heaps consist of layers of Green and brown material and manure.

2. Tumbler Barrels. Using the same materials as above and simply keeping the compost moist and turning each week.

3). Free standing, Composting Barrels. Again using the same materials, but allowing air vents to decompose the humus.

==>If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy the following: Just click here<==

Should you have any comments you want to add or questions you wish to ask. Please fill in the ‘comments box’ below. Jim

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Kulk

14 Comments

  1. I have thought about making my own compost for our garden but didn’t really know the process. Your article has helped to clear up some of my questions. My husband and I have an average size garden and we live out in the country on 10 acres so getting the materials needed would not be too much of a problem. Our neighbor has horses so there is another material readily available. So the hot compost method would work best for us. The problem is getting my husband motivated:) I am going to bookmark this article and show it to him. One question. How long does it take from start to finish using the hot compost method? I need an idea of when to start this method to have it ready for the garden in the spring.

    • Hi Taianne. The time it takes for hot composting to provide a finished product will depend on several factors. How often you turn the heap. If you keep the moisture levels correct. If you provide the correct ingredients and the correct amount of each, and lastly if the weather is consistent (not to hot or cold or wet). On average however you should be able to produce good compost within two months. All the best Jim

  2. Hello Jim, this was a very interesting article to read discussing garden compost. I was always interested into gardening, but I will wait until I move into a better house. I will have to go with the Tumbler composer, since it is easy to use, and my garden will be small, and it makes great compost. Thanks again, and I wish you the best of luck with your website!!!

  3. Hi Jim, I always learn a lot when I visit your blog and I thank you for your knowledge. I didn’t realise there were different ways of composting. What would you recommend for a very small patio garden, or would composting not be recommended for such a small space? Thanks

    • Hi Melissa. You can compost for a small patio garden. I would either try a smaller version of the free standing bin or a composting bucket. You can put your kitchen scraps (no meat etc.,) into the bin along with any dead leaves you may find. Jim

  4. This is amazing! Growing up my dad loved to garden and I always went out and helped out. I was just doing to research on composites came across this. I had no idea that you could make this stuff at home. Is it more beneficial cost wise to make it yourself?

    • Hi Tony. Yes it is more beneficial if you have easy access to the materials. It will be cheaper and you’ll know what’s gone into it. All the best Jim

  5. Hi Jim- I love gardening although I made an error when it comes to worm farming as I left my worm bin to close to my compost and all the worms left home and went to the compost- Have moved it since and got some worms back to do their job 🙂
    Love this post

  6. This is great! I was looking for a way for me to enjoy my little garden, and this seems perfect. I didn’t know you can do all this by yourself. I guess I have a new project 🙂
    Thanks

    • Anything’s possible with gardening Emma. It’s a great way to get exercise and to feel the ‘Good tired’ at the end of the day. JIM

  7. Jim, thank you for the reminder of how to make compost. I have had a tumbler for so long I had really forgotten the ins and outs of the ways you have shown. It all came back to me now. I had a neighbor that had an anaerobic compost pile going, and even though our properties were not small we could get a whiff if the wind blew the wrong way. (thankfully not often). He was generous with his harvest, so it all worked out.
    I just have a very small garden on my patio now, and the barrel works out nicely. I just found your site and will be looking around.
    have a great evening,
    Doug

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