Composting 101

Composting 101

Sod University
compost

Composting 101

Composting is no longer a well-kept secret. Many homeowners have heard about compost piles and compost bins. It’s hard not to these days. But are these heaping piles worth the time and effort to see them to success? It certainly appears so.

So what exactly is composting? Composting is the natural process of recycling organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a dark rich substance that avid gardeners fondly refer to as ‘black gold.’

Why compost?

  • The organic matter in compost helps soil retain nutrients and water, benefiting your plants in many positive and noticeable ways.
  • It eliminates the need to buy commercial soil ‘boosters.’
  • Composting also minimizes the strain on landfills, thus helping the environment.
  • It minimizes the need to bag grass and leaves and reduces your family’s trash. (Lawn and garden waste makes up an astonishing percentage of the country’s total trash.
  • It is simple to do and can be a family project.
  • And…let’s not forget that it is essentially free? It might require some sweat equity building and mixing, but it yields almost immediate for the fruits of one’s labor.

How do you make a compost pile?

  • Step 1: Find an outside space that is roughly 3’ x 3’. Because of the minor odors that may emanate, a common compost location for most homeowners is near the spot you store your trash cans.
  • Step 2: Create a ‘structure.’ Either build a pencompost bin or purchase a compost bin or bag from your local hardware store or on Amazon. For those who are crafty, there are plenty of DIY projects that require minimal material and time to generate great looking results. A quick Google search will likely yield the compost bin that is right for your space.
  • Step 3: Get the process underway. With bin or bag in place, it is time to get started. Begin by collecting brown matter such as leaves or dead grass to be placed at the base of the bin or bag. Fill up about 1/6th of the bin to start.
  • Step 4: Go green next. Place green matter, such as used veggies, or fresh grass clippings into your pile.  Try to avoid meat scraps and bones as these attract unwanted guests and take considerably longer to break down.
  • Step 5: Water. Water. Water. It is important that once you have your brown and green matter assembled in the bin to water them both. Moisten to the point that the contents begin to feel like a damp sponge. Do not be afraid to use your hands as a gauge. After all, you are making dirt.
  • Step 6: Mix the brown and green matter. Be sure to mix your newly forming compost as thoroughly as possible. Unsure? Mix some more.
  • Step 7: Repeat steps 2-6 until your bin or bag is filled. That should take approximately three different mixtures with each double step filling up about 1/3 of the bin.
  • Step 8: Cover with a lid, and get baking. That is an essential part of being a compost master.
  • Step 9: Check your compost progress every few days.  If it is starting to dry out, add water. If it is starting to smell, rest assured that the natural process is in full gear.
  • Step 10: Expect ‘black gold’ after 4 to 5 weeks. The compost you have created is rich in carbon and nitrogen, exactly the nutrients your plants need to be healthy.
  • Step 11: Transfer the magic. Place new compost in a container and distribute around the base of each of your plants. A solid handful or two per plant should be sufficient.
  • Step 12: Repeat the process. Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Again!

How does the organic material turn into the nutrient-rich substance that plants love? Compost results from the breakdown of different types of organic material at the molecular level by microbes. Simply stated, think of microbes as little ‘piranhas,’ solely interested in feasting on organic material. When a hot humid environment is created, a conducive ecosystem for microbial growth results. The more microbes, the faster the organic material breaks down. As these microbes feast, they excrete a bi-product. This by-product is what we are looking for: a substance full of critical nutrients including carbon and nitrogen. In essence, microbes break down organic material and excrete compost. Microbial poop equals nutrient-rich compost.

Are there any negatives to composting? The only obvious concern is the odor produced. However, many compost smells resemble that of a dirty clothes hamper. If located properly, that should be of little concern. So should the minimal outdoor space it requires.

Effective composting takes a little bit of ongoing effort accompanied by a good-sized helping of patience. The depth of the rewards your plants and the environment reap are well worth both.

Want to learn more about achieving a great lawn? Check out our other Sod University tips here