Composting 101

Composting 101

I am just sure I will be an excellent gardener!  As much as I have been researching, reading and talking with garden experts — it’s bound to happen.  Plus, I recently found out that it’s in my blood!  My grandparents on both sides had beautiful flowers and amazing gardens.  Which explains why both my parents seem to have a knack for growing amazing and beautiful plants.  The problem is, my track record isn’t that great. . . I’ve had a lot of plants die, or just slowly linger on, which is why (in part) I’ve added gardening to my Pretty Trimmings blog.  Your yard is a statement of your home and my hope is to have amazing and beautiful plants to showcase.

I believe there are two main reasons I’ve had so much difficulty in the past:  Clay soil and poor drainage.  Our home subdivision sits on the inside of a golf course and has been designed to prevent flooding.  So the homes sit up high while the yards slope downward.  In the very back corner of our backyard, we even have a drain that takes all of the water from all of the backyards away.  Hence some areas in our backyard are very wet when it rains, or snows.  So wet, in fact, at times your shoes will sink in the soil.  I added a pretty flower garden to my backyard and tried to plant all kinds of flowers.  Most have moved on to a better place in plant Heaven, and others I’ve transplanted to different areas in the yard.  So issue number one is wet, wet ground to work with in the back yard.  I’ll share how I’m going to solve this problem in a future post, but here’s a hint:  IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM — JOIN THEM!

The second reason I’ve had so many troubles is that our soil is full of clay.  Plant roots like to be able to grow outward and clay soil makes this process very hard.  In the past, I haven’t done anything to fix this problem and just kept sticking pretty plants in the clay soil only to watch them struggle, rather than flourish.  So to solve this problem, I’m working on adding amendments to my soil.  These include compost, peat moss, manure, gypsum and vermiculite.  By definition, compost is decayed organic material used as a fertilizer in the garden.  It’s not too expensive to buy, but with all of the amendments I need to add to my soil, this is the one that I can make at home.  Plus it gives me the ability to recycle some of our waste, which makes my trash man very happy, and is good for the environment.

There are multiple ways you can go about creating a compost pile.  The cheapest way is to dedicate an area of your yard to hold these materials, or to build a container.  The easiest way is to purchase a compost tumbler — that’s the route I went.  A compost tumbler allows you to keep your materials together and tumble them a few times each week without any mess.  I also purchased a compost container for under my sink to hold “Green” materials.

So what goes on in a compost pile?  Composting is a decaying process which is caused by bugs — both little and microscopic.  These include insects, bugs, slugs, bacteria and fungi — all mixed in to create a food web.  Sounds cool, huh?  For those who don’t know, I worked in microbiology for a number of years and this is so my thing!!!!  Well these critters have needs to do their job.  They need food, water and air.  The food they require is broken down into two categories, Green and Brown.

  • Green materials provide nitrogen.  These items include grass clippings, green leaves and landscape trimmings and manure.  From your kitchen, you can keep items such as vegetable and fruit scraps and peels, coffee grounds and eggshells (these are considered neutral meaning they aren’t green or brown).  The green items should make up 25% of your compost pile.
  • Brown materials provide carbon.  These include dry leaves, twigs and hay.  Some articles say you can add shredded paper but I’ve also read to do this with caution since some papers have inks that contain chemicals.  One item I’m collecting for brown material is toilet paper and paper towel rolls — we have tons!  Carbon, or brown items, should make up 75% of your compost pile.  If you have a bunch of “brown” leaves in early spring it may be a good idea to save some for future compost piles.
  • There are some items you need to keep out of your compost pile.  Non-biodegradable items like aluminum or plastic do not go in your pile.  Do not add any meat, fish or dairy products also.  Try not to add any weeds to your compost material when adding grass clippings or garden materials.
Compostable items

Make sure NOT to add meat, fish or dairy products.

The other ingredients needed are air and water.  Air is easy with a tumbling composter — just tumble every couple of days.  Tumbling allows air to mix into the deep areas of the pile and provide oxygen to promote the decay process.  Water is easy too.  Just ensure that the pile stays moist, like a wrung out sponge.  Add water as needed to keep it moist.

Composting is an easy way to provide nutrition to your soil and plants.  It only takes about six weeks to get good, nutrient, compost to add to your garden or flower beds.  It is recycling at it’s best and reduces waste you send to the landfill!!!!  What soil amendments have you added to your garden that have helped?

One comment

Leave a Reply