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Starting a Compost Pile

Have you ever considered composting? It’s an easy and environmentally-friendly way to create nutrient-rich fertilizer from discarded waste; such as kitchen scraps, grass trimmings, wood ash, etc. It’s a technique that has been around for centuries, proving to be a literal lifesaver for those in extreme climates.

What is compost? Compost is decomposed (or decomposing) organic material. It’s a process that occurs in nature, whereas dead material is constantly recycled back into the earth, keeping soil rich and fertile. A compost pile is just a more concentrated sped-up version of this cycle.  Modern composters redirect up to 30% of household waste from trash bins, which saves space and money. All you need is a small 3’ x 3’ section to begin.


photo by Edward H Blake on flickr


Choosing a Location

When choosing where to start a compost pile there are a few factors to consider. Choose a level location that allows for a couple hours of sunlight a day. Decomposition only occurs when the pile has the right amount of moisture, too much sunlight and the process will come to a halt. If your pile does dry out, a quick spray with the water hose and your back in business. Another factor to consider is distance. You don’t want your pile too far from the house if tossing scraps, or too far from your garden. Also, keep the pile away from nearby trees or other long rooted plants. The roots will soak up all the pile’s nutrients.


Prepping the Pile

Once you have chosen a location, you can begin preparations for the pile. To prevent animals from getting to your compost, such as raccoon or deer, its best practice to place wired or wooden fencing around the area. It’s also more aesthetically pleasing to have a decomposing pile of scraps hidden from view. Next, if your location has grass growing, turn the ground. This will kill the grass and create a nice base layer to host the decomposition. Add 2-3 feet of grass clippings and leaves to the turned soil and your prepping is complete.


Creating Compost

Now that we have a base layer it’s time to start adding to it. If collecting kitchen scraps, consider placing a container with a lid under the sink that you’ll empty once a week. This method makes collecting easy. If odor becomes a problem, keep another container of dried shredded leaves or newspaper to pour on top of the scraps. Paper and cardboard can be added to compost if it’s not glossy or exposed to harmful chemicals. It’s very important to have a balanced layered compost pile. Too much household waste will cause odor and attract animals and flies. When adding scraps, it’s best to add another layer of leaves, grass clippings, or hay on top. This ensures an odor-free and moist compost. You always want to have a nice balance of green and brown material. Consider keeping a trash bin of leaves and clippings close to the pile.


Waste to Avoid 

Although anything organic can decompose, some waste will slow the process or even contaminate the pile. Avoid pet waste as it will introduce unwanted parasites and microorganisms to the soil. Wood ash and sawdust from untreated wood are great, but don’t use charcoal ash or shavings from processed materials; these introduce sulfur and harmful chemicals. Avoid meats, fats, and diseased plants or weeds. It’s also important to note that size matters! Smaller waste is easier to decompose. Chop kitchen scraps into small pieces and introduce light even layers of trimmings to reduce clumping.


Reaping the Benefits

Congratulations! You’ve just started a compost pile that’s creating nutrient-rich soil at this very moment. For best results, turn your pile every couple of weeks to keep the contents moist and decomposing evenly. Use the enriched soil in flower beds, potted plants, or sprinkled throughout a tilled garden. Keep some of the dead material to kickstart the decomposition again once you’ve used the soil. Repeat the composting process to keep utilizing household waste and clippings to create top-notch fertilizer for all your needs.

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