Nutrition Notes: Composting 101

With springtime and planting season right around the corner, it is time to start thinking about how we can create a healthy growing environment. Composting does just that! It provides much more nutrient-rich growing soil (ensuring bigger and better plants) while providing a sustainable recycling option for consumers and reducing overall waste.

There are quite a few things that we throw away that could be composted and used to benefit the environment. Just about anything that is not man-made can be composted such as egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit rinds/peels, unused pieces of fruit/vegetables, tea bags, lawn trimmings, nut shells, pits of fruits, stale cereal or grain items, most paper products and much more! These items decompose and break down into a nutrient-rich soil, which is used to help plants grow. Wondering where to start? Follow the steps below and you will have plenty of nutrient-rich soil in no time!

Here’s what you need!

– Carbon-rich “brown” materials such as leaves, straw, dead flowers from your garden and shredded newspaper.

– Nitrogen-rich “green” materials such as grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste (vegetable peelings and fruit rinds, but no meat scraps), or barnyard animal manure (even though its color is usually brown, manure is full of nitrogen like the other “green” stuff). However, do not use manure from carnivores, such as cats or dogs.

– A shovelful or two of garden soil.

– A site that’s at least 3 feet long by 3 feet wide. Ideally, choose a spot that gets sunlight and shade at different times of the day near a reliable water source.

Here’s what to do!

1. Start by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of dry brown stuff like straw, cornstalks or leaves, where you want to build the pile.

2. Top that with several inches of green stuff.

3. Add a thin layer of soil.

4. Add a layer of brown stuff.

5. Moisten the three layers with water.

Continue layering green stuff and brown stuff with a little soil mixed in until the pile is 3 feet high. Try to add stuff in a ration of three parts brown to one part green. (If it takes a while before you have enough material to build the pile that high, don’t worry. Just keep adding to the pile until it gets to at least3 feet high.) As time goes on, continue adding scraps from the yard/kitchen working to the top of the pile and mist it with water.

You don’t need a compost bin to make compost. You simply need a pile that is at least 3 x 3 x 3 feet. A pile this size will have enough mass to decompose without a bin. Many gardeners buy or build compost bins, because they want to keep the pile neat. Some bins are even designed to make turning the compost easier or protect it from soaking rains. If you choose to not use a bin and have your pile outdoors, consider using a tarp to loosely cover the pile, especially if you live in a very rainy area. This also helps seal in moisture, speeding up the decomposition process.

Starting your own compost pile can be a great activity to get the entire family involved in the growing process. Starting a compost pile is the perfect first step to take in order to create your own backyard garden. Happy growing!

Steps to creating your own compost pile adapted from: Organic Gardening

Other Gardening Resources:
http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/building.cfm
http://www.planetnatural.com/composting-101/