Producing inexpensive fertilizer in your own back yard can reduce your gardening costs and help you to control the types and amounts of chemicals that you use in your garden. Composting is not only good for your vegetables, but it is a good way to make use of waste and positively impacts the environment. Here are some tips for starting your own batch of compost.
1. Decide how you will contain your compost. Ideally, compost should be made in a contained space, although you can certainly make a free-form pile. You can purchase ready-made composting bins or barrels, or you can make a three- or four-sided structure using wooden or metal posts, chicken wire, mesh or another breathable, porous material. If you are building your own, the size is up to you. A 4-foot by 4-foot enclosure works well.
2. Select a location. If your compost is open to the air, it’s a good idea to place the pile away from your house, as compost can attract animals and other pests. You should also avoid placing it in a location that receives a lot of wind, to keep odors at bay. Finally, ensure that the compost is located in an area that drains well.
3. Know what you can and cannot compost. For instance, you should never place human waste or kitty litter in your composting pile, but manure from non-carnivorous animals, such as rabbits, is fine. Newspaper breaks down well in compost, but magazines and other heavily printed materials do not. Cake, bread, bones, cooking oil and meat scraps can attract pests and animals. Diseased plants should be avoided, too, as the compost can spread a fungal infection to other plants. Many scraps and waste from the kitchen can be composted, including fruit and veggie peels, egg shells and coffee grounds and filters. Fallen leaves, lawn clippings, and other yard waste is great for composting, so long as the plants haven’t been treated with chemicals. Avoid adding sawdust to the pile, however, unless you are certain that the wood was untreated.
4. Create a system for storing compost indoors. Unless you want to run to the compost bin every time you use an egg or make coffee, it’s a good idea to keep a composting container in the house. Unfortunately, an open compost bin can attract unwanted pests, and even a lidded container can become stinky. You can actually stash your compost in a one-gallon ice cream bucket or a similar container, and place it in your fridge or freezer, emptying it into the compost pile when it becomes full.
5. Turn your pile occasionally. Using a pitchfork or a shovel, mix and turn the pile occasionally to promote even decomposition. This aerates the pile, too, and helps to keep the moisture level of the compost balanced.
When your compost breaks down into black, soil-like material, it is perfect for fertilizing your veggies, flowers, trees and other plants. This natural material is rich in nutrients such as nitrogen that will enable your plants to flourish naturally.