Life and living: Composting 101

What makes your garden grow? Ask the most accomplished gardeners, and they’ll probably cite composting as a factor. Once you get into the habit of composting, you’ll have nutrient-rich soil that keeps your garden healthy all year long. But what if you’ve never composted before? Read on for the basics to make your garden grow.

The first step is collecting your compost materials in a bin, which should be placed outside (so make sure it’s animal proof). You can buy a bin at a garden center, build something yourself (Google “how to build a compost bin”) or just use an old Rubbermaid-style tote you don’t need anymore. If you use a plastic bin, drill holes in it so air can get in, since oxygen is a vital part of the composting process. 

The best material to use for composting is plant-based, which produces less of an odor and is easily composted. The worms, bugs, microorganisms, bacteria and fungi that are already in the ground combine with the organic waste you’ll add to the bin and turn it into nutrient-rich material.

When starting the composting process, think of it like layering a lasagna: 

Layer 1

Start with sticks, wood chips and other coarse materials (i.e., old plants with thicker, tougher stalks) that allow airflow. Add a light sprinkle of water.

Layer 2

Lay a thin layer of soil or manure—something that contains microorganisms—to get the process going. Add a little more water.

Layer 3

Add more sticks or leaves, and a bit more water. 

Layer 4

This will be the green layer. Add your organic food and garden waste, like banana peels, wilted lettuce, potato skins, fruit and veggie scraps, grass, and old flowers. (And you guessed it…more water.) 

Layer 5

For the final layer, top off with soil, manure or whatever you’re using for microorganisms. Then, water it one last time. 

The next part is easy. Let your layered pile sit for a few months. It may need some turning, and you may need to add more waste material over time. You may also experience a trial-and-error period as you find out what works best for you.

Once your compost has broken down into a sludge, it’s ready to spread in your garden. And we’d bet that when you finally see your healthy growing plants, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start composting sooner! 

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