How to Use Compost: A New Gardener’s Guide

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Composting is a method of converting yard waste and food scraps into nutrient-dense soil. 

It can also be used to provide nutrients to plants, reduce trash sent to landfills, and improve water quality in streams. As a new gardener, it’s important to understand how composting works so that you can begin developing your green thumb. 

In this guide, we will discuss why composting is beneficial to the environment, what equipment you will need to get started, and how simple it is.

What is compost, and why should I use it?

Compost is decomposed organic material. It can be made from leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, manure, or any other living material. 

Plants and animals decompose into compost all around us on the Earth’s surface. Composting accelerates this natural process by providing the proper combination of air and water to aid in the breakdown of the material.

Composting is an excellent way to recycle organic kitchen and garden waste into something that will benefit the soil in your yard, garden, or farm. It can save money on garbage disposal since it reduces the volume of waste that you throw away as trash. By keeping organic materials out of the trash, compost also reduces methane gas emissions from landfills.

Composting can even aid in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change by allowing plants to grow in soil with higher nutrient content. 

Compost will also improve the quality of your garden and lawn by retaining water, resulting in fewer trips to the hose for you.

Why is compost so important for gardening?

Gardeners use compost because it provides the nutrients plants need to survive

Plants take these nutrients from the soil, but there are only a finite number of them in any given volume of dirt. The decomposition process that happens inside your compost bin will provide you with fresh material to replenish any nutrient loss in your garden or lawn soil.

To successfully use compost to improve the garden, three things are required:

  • Make sure that your soil is in good health. 
  • Add moisture and nutrients, such as nitrogen-rich material (grass clippings are ideal for this), to aid the decomposition process.
  • Maintain proper temperatures and moisture levels inside the bin––it should be slightly damp, like a sponge.

Three things to know before you compost:

  • Understand your ingredients. Kitchen scraps and garden waste are excellent for composting; however, do not include meat or dairy products. They will attract pests and emit an unpleasant odor that will repel neighbors! Avoid adding diseased plants as well––you don’t want to infect your other plants!
  • Keep proper composting conditions in place. Temperature, moisture level, and aeration are all critical factors in successful decomposition. If you use the right materials in the first place, it should take about four weeks for your bin to heat up enough to destroy pathogens that could be harmful if you eat the food waste.
  • Turn your compost pile regularly. Use a pitchfork or shovel to keep air moving through and speeding up decomposition. This will also help prevent odors from forming inside your bin.

infographic + free printable} Composting 101 - Botanical PaperWorks

What do I need to get started?

To begin composting, all you need is a bin. 

Open-air, cylindrical buckets with holes punched in the sides and bottom for air circulation are the best type of bins. You can also use an enclosed system to make compost more quickly, such as a tumbling composter.

You’ll also need some brown waste to balance out the green waste. Brown material contains a lot of carbon and includes things like dry leaves, brown grass clippings, straw, shredded paper, and untreated cardboard.

It’s time to start composting once you have your bin and some brown material to balance out the green waste. Pinpoint a location for your bin outside, close to where you will use the compost. 

Turn your compost every few weeks with a pitchfork or shovel to mix it all together to speed up decomposition. Continue to add scraps and turn until you have rich soil for your garden.

Now that I know what I need, how do I start? 

Begin by gathering some brown material from your yard. Instead of bagging up leaves and grass clippings as trash, use them to make compost for your garden beds or vegetable patch if you have a large lawn.

Next, pinpoint a location in your yard where you can place your bin that receives sunlight but is also protected from heavy rain. This is where you will begin your composting process.

Fill the bin with the brown material you gathered. Then, add scraps like apple cores and banana peels to balance the carbon in your organic materials. Continue to add scraps as they accumulate until there is no more room inside the bin or tumbler of your choice. Finally, turn everything every two weeks or so.

In a few months, you’ll have some rich black soil to add to your garden beds, and before long, they will be filled with all the flowers and vegetables you could ever want.

What can you put in your compost pile to create a healthy environment?

To create a healthy environment for decomposition, you must mix the right ingredients. You want about an equal amount of green and brown material in your compost pile to encourage proper air circulation and moisture levels in the soil.

If there is too much nitrogen-rich material (like grass clippings), it can cause odors and make it difficult to get the compost pile hot enough for decomposition. If there is too much carbon (like dead leaves), you will end up with a slimy, smelly, and anaerobic environment that can be toxic to plants!

You should also avoid adding any diseased plants or weeds into your compost pile as these could spread disease to your other garden plants.

How do I know if my compost is ready? 

Your compost should turn dark brown, have a strong earthy odor, and feel slightly damp. It may also be warm to the touch if you can turn it with a pitchfork or shovel regularly, as previously mentioned.

When you have good rich soil that smells earthy and is dark brown in color, you have compost. As long as you don’t use too much of it at once, you can use this compost for flowers or vegetables.

Composting is a great way to get your green thumb started and start living more sustainably

It can also help reduce methane gas emissions in landfills and climate change by allowing plants to grow in soil with higher nutrient content.

Common mistakes people make when making their own compost pile

People frequently make the mistake of overfeeding their compost pile with nitrogen. Grass clippings are a common offender in this area, but they can be balanced out by adding fruit peels and vegetable scraps to your compost pile.

Another mishap is not putting enough brown material in the bin or tumbler to help reduce moisture and odors. If you notice a slimy buildup and unpleasant odors, it could be because your compost pile isn’t aerated enough to promote good decomposition.

Finally, it is critical not to mix too many different types of materials in the same bin or tumbler because they decompose at different rates. If you mix grass clippings with dead leaves, the grass may not decompose as quickly and may result in anaerobic conditions that are harmful to plants.

How to care for your new homemade compost pile

If you want to keep your compost pile going, make sure you always have enough brown material in the bin or tumbler. This will help to reduce odors and moisture while also accelerating decomposition.

Second, make sure there is plenty of air circulation and access for water drainage by raising one side higher than the other if necessary. Turn it at least once every two weeks with a pitchfork or shovel to keep temperatures high enough for decomposition.

Finally, your compost pile should never emit unpleasant or toxic odors. If this occurs, either too much nitrogen-rich material is being added to the bin, or the conditions for decomposition and nutrient formation are not favorable.

Aspiration is an environmentally conscious company that strives to live in harmony with the Earth

At Aspiration, we strive to live in harmony with the Earth. We create resources to help reduce pollution and create products that support a better way of life for people in need or increase recycling efforts. 

But we don’t just stop there––we want our members to get involved too. That’s why we created the Aspiration Zero credit card, which rewards you for going carbon neutral. 

So if you’re looking for an eco-friendly, easy-to-use credit card or any of our other sustainable financial products/services, contact us today!


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