The other day, someone told me that they like the idea of composting. but don’t know how to begin, and don’t have room for a big compost bin in their yard. It made me think that there are probably a lot of misconceptions about composting, and even though you and I probably chatted about this before, maybe it’s time for us to review!
Composting is a free, significant way to improve the health of your soil and plants. Compost returns valuable nutrients to the soil, as well as adding the equivalent of “fibre” to the soil. You can compost on as small or big a scale as you please.
So let’s tackle some of the myths. You don’t need a big fancy bin. You can compost on a small scale in an ice cream pail with a lid, or in a garbage bag , or if you want to get a little more technical, you certainly can make a “bin” out of chicken wire or lumber. My Mom and Dad were firm believers in composting, and Daddy constructed a bin with three pallets nailed together and open on one side. But a small yard doesn’t mean you can’t compost. (And if anyone tells you that a compost bin is unsightly, they’re really missing the boat about the purpose of the entire process. As a comparison, you wouldn’t say that you don’t want to receive a beautiful gift because you’ll end up with messy wrapping paper all over the place, would you? The benefits of composting far outweigh how it looks. Besides, you can always tuck your compost area in a corner or behind a shed. It doesn’t have to be right in front of your patio!)
What goes into compost? Leaves, some grass clippings, vegetable peels, shredded newspaper. You must remember that for the process to work, air and moisture must be able to go through the layers. Chopping or shredding into smaller pieces will speed up the process. So if you have a small compost system in an ice cream pail, layer your veggie peels and fruit peels with a handful or two of crushed leaves. Then put the lid on the pail and turn it back and forth every few days to get air mixed into the mixture. You want it to break down, but you don’t want it to rot. There is a big difference. If you are using a garbage bag , same thing. I think I told you about a wonderful gardener we know who saved bags of leaves, kept them moist and turned them, and ended up with the most amazing compost: all from something that a lot of people would have stuffed into their garbage bins, and hence into the landfill!
What doesn’t go into compost? Read and follow this one in particular: do not put any sort of meat, bones, dog or kitty poo, used cat litter, anything that has been treated with chemicals, diseased plants, or weeds into a compost pile. Compost is made up of selected decomposed vegetation. You will end up with serious problems if you add in any of the items listed above. There are things that are wonderful for compost and then there is garbage. Don’t mix the two!
And if your compost smells, there is a problem. Compost has a rich, earthy smell. It doesn’t smell bad. But if you detect another odor, you might have to adjust the layering of your components to get more aeration. One of the worst things for odor is grass clippings: too thick a layer and you get that certain aroma, you know what I mean! Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing! So trust your sense of smell and adjust accordingly.
Time is an important component of a compost pile. You won’t end up with compost in a week. The really terrific compost that looks like rich garden soil might takes as long as a year and a half to completely break down in a large compost bin. But don’t be discouraged. The SHA tour is this coming week: it should be a great trip, and if you still are thinking you want to go, call Liz at 782-2830 and check if any seats are still available. Otherwise, be mindful of the sun and the heat, and have a great week!