How to make and use compost in your garden


How does your garden grow? A lot better if the soil is enriched with compost from your own compost pile. Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening magazine, shows how to make and use compost.

How to make and use compost in your garden

What is compost?
Compost is natural, once living, (non animal) material that decomposes to create a rich, dark brown, crumbly material that is important for nourishing plants and keeping soil healthy.

Why is composting important?

It is the best organic fertilizer, soil conditioner, and disease preventer. It is also a nice way to do our fair share for the environment. Using compost eliminates the need for chemical fertilizer and the production of compost puts your non-animal raw food scraps to great use. Fun fact: A single teaspoon of compost, contains more living creatures, (micro-organisms) than there are people on earth! You are also inoculating the soil; the compost fends off the bad bacteria and helps feed the plants. Compost is the secret to why organic gardens thrive without chemical fertilizers.

How do you make compost?
You do not need a big, fancy bin to create compost. (Although, big, fancy bins made for composting work just fine.) A few yards of chicken wire will work just as well. Form a circle of chicken wire that is 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet high – these dimensions create the correct amount of weight and mass to start the proper decomposition.

Start layering “brown” and “green” materials inside the chicken wire. Brown ingredients include materials that have started to dry out, such as straw or shredded leaves and should be a 3-to-1 ratio to the green ingredients. Green ingredients are fresher and not as dried-out as brown ingredients. Green ingredients can include grass clippings, banana peels, tea bags, coffee grounds, cut flowers, vegetable peels, fruit pulp from your juicer – even egg shells (the only animal-based ingredient that's OK for compost).

To aid in the decomposition, turn the pile periodically with a shovel and make sure that the pile never dries out. You don’t want to water the pile to soak it, but it needs to maintain moisture.

How long does it take to make compost?
If you are a very enthusiastic compost maker and you turn the heap once a week, you should have compost in 2-3 months. If you are more of the “compost happens” type and you choose not to turn it, you should have compost in 6 months.

Once your compost is complete, how much do you need to add to your garden?
Sprinkle half an inch of compost on top of existing plants and add compost to the soil when plants are transplanted.




Transcript RON:  Hi everyone I’m Ron Corning for and today we are talking about turning trash into treasure. Or at least some great quality fertilizer, we’re going to make our own compost. Joining us to help us out is Scott Meyer; he is the editor of Organic Gardening magazine. So all right Scott, we want to know first and for most what is compost exactly?

SCOTT:  Compost is the once living things turned into soil conditioner, weed preventer, and fertilizer. It’s taking those things and putting them together and managing the process when they decompose and leave you with a great result.

RON:  So Scott, explain to me the process how composting works to help grow a in a garden?

SCOTT:  Compost works by taking specific materials you want to use, some browns and some greens, we’ll talk about that a little later what we mean by that. Mixing them together, and when you do that there are millions of microbes in the soil. They come up and start to break down that stuff into the fertilizer nutrients that plants need.

RON:  It looks pretty simple, you don’t need a bin per say you have chicken wire here right?

SCOTT:  That’s right, we like to say, “Compost happens.” Which means you don’t have to do a whole lot to make this work, but it does help to have a few things to make it neater and easier to manage. You can buy fancy bins, but you can start with something as simple as a roll of chicken wire that you form into a circle and then fill it with your material.

RON:  Okay, we have some of the material here I’m going to pick some up. I’m the novice, if I can do it anyone can. What do we have here exactly?

SCOTT:  We have what we call the browns part of compost. You want to balance the browns and the greens, the browns, the stuff that started to dry and decay. This could be straw, shredded leaves, those are great brown ingredients. You want to mix the browns with a three to one ratio with the greens; it’s a good base layer to lie down.

RON:  When you rake your leaves in the fall you just gather that stuff up.

SCOTT:  That is a great time to start your compost in the fall cause you have all those leaves. Okay so this is the first layer you just put that in there.

RON:  And it is good that the air circulates, I suppose you could put it in a trashcan; there’s no air it can start a whole other process.

SCOTT:  No air it will start to smell, if there is air circulation it will not smell, or attract animals or the other concerns in compost.

RON:  All right so we have the brown ingredients, next we need the green ingredients, and what do they involve?

SCOTT:  Green ingredients are fresher, they’re not hat dry. Grass clippings is an excellent ingredient. I also brought some great green ingredients for us, saved some from our home compost pound.

RON:  You call them green ingredients; I call them garbage, all right so there we have a banana peal, avocado peal…

SCOTT:  Some tea bags in there, some peelings from a cucumber, eggshells are an excellent ingredient to add. It is the only animal source ingredient…

RON:  I was going to say; I think eggshells are an animal ingredient.

SCOTT:  They are, the shells are very high in the vitamin calcium. You can just dump the whole thing. You can also add in here garden pants that are finished, house plants, cut flowers, coffee grounds is a great ingredient. I know its brown but manure is a great ingredient for compost pile. It has to come from an herbivore, chickens, cows, they’re great ingredients for a compost pile and they are green because they are high in nitrogen even though they are brown.

RON:  How long does this take exactly?

SCOTT:  Well the first thing you have to do is make sure your pile is high enough to start decomposing. This bin is a perfect size because it has to be three feet high three feet wide and three feet deep. So once you have that you’ll have the critical mass the pressure that begins the decomposing process. If you are a very enthusiastic compost maker and you turn it every week, two months and you’ll have compost. You have in the center an area that will start to get hot. You’ll literally see steam come off of it when you dig into it. That’s the stuff that’s finished composting and move that too the outside. Take the outside and move that to the middle, that’s what the turn means. If you are the let compost happen and never turn it, six months.

RON:  So what we’ve started here basically the first two layers, and we are going to continue to turn it and add more layers.

SCOTT:  That’s right, and the other thing that we haven’t talked about is that it needs a little moisture. You don’t want to water it and get it soaking wet, but you like it to be damp all the time. So the turning is important, and the water is important. So you keep doing this, you can do this all at once if you have the ingredients, or just keep adding to it as time goes on.

RON:  So Scott, this is it, this is the finished product, pretty remarkable.

SCOTT:  It’s almost like alchemy.

RON:  Yeah it is, this reminds me of really fine grade topsoil.

SCOTT:  What you have here, I mentioned those microbes, there are billions of microbes, there are more living things in a teaspoon of soil then there are people on earth.

RON:  Really?

SCOTT:  Really. It’s the best kind of way to feed your garden.

RON:  Which explains why organic gardens grow so effectively, this is really a key component.

SCOTT:  It’s critical.

RON:  So once you have the finished product you have to begin incorporating it into your garden, how do you recommend you do that?

SCOTT:  You can just simply put it on the layer that on the top, a half inch thick. But one of the ways I like to use it is to really target it at the plant. Transplanting every planting hole gets a little compost in it so the soil is enriched.

RON:  Thank you.

SCOTT:  Your welcome.

RON:  Scott Meyer is the editor of Organic Gardening magazine, and I’m Ron Corning for
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  • Scott Meyer

    Scott Meyer Organic Gardening Expert, Editor of Organic Gardening Scott Meyer, Editor of Organic Gardening, has been with the magazine for nearly 20 years, serving in a variety of roles including product tester and Website producer. more about this expert »

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