Garden Compost Tips

Garden Compost Tips
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Garden Compost TipsA few tidbits on compost. If you haven't tried composting, you should give it a try, even if you have a small space in which to keep a pile. Yes, fancy composters will most likely give you fast compost, but you don't need anything more than some chicken wire or wood, and organic matter. A pitch fork does come in handy for turning if you have one. Remember not to add meat or bones to your compost.

The theory is that you layer organic matter, which heats up, and turns into nice dark compost that your soil and plants will love. Form a circle with chicken wire-- into the circle place a layer of weeds, leaves, and other "brown" organic matter. The next layer should be "green" matter such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc. Then top it will another layer of the brown matter.

The smaller the matter, the quicker it will compost. One method is to take off the chicken wire, move it next to the pile, and shovel it into the circle in the new spot. Another way is to build two "bins" out of wood and shovel back and forth between them. There are many methods to making compost, but as you try it you'll figure out the best way for you.

During the fall you will have an abundance of compost materials including leaves, grass clippings, straw, hay, vegetables, annuals and perennials that you've cut back. The key to using all of these materials is keeping the size small and using healthy clippings, nothing diseased. You should also avoid black walnut leaves, eucalyptus, poison oak, poison ivy and sumac.

You don't need an expensive chopper or shredder--use your lawn mower to go over the materials. Spread them on the ground and mow a few times til they are smaller. Do this with leaves and pine needles, plant clippings etc. Grass clippings may get rather ugly if they are placed in deep piles, so spread them out on a sunny day to dry out.

You also want to prepare your household refuse for the compost pile. It's not a big deal once you get used to doing it! Crush the egg shells, and cut up anything big like watermelon rinds into smaller pieces. Throw them in a bucket and add to the compost pile every few days.

You can also add shredded or cut-up newspaper (no shiny ads) and cardboard. You don't want to add TOO much of either, but a couple buckets is fine. This also applies to wood ashes from your fire pit or fireplace.

Gardeners who work with their compost a lot will see results MUCH faster-- digging the pile-- making sure it has the correct amounts of materials etc. But, when you have kids, busy schedules, and too much going on it's not so easy. You can STILL have compost, it just takes longer! Start your pile-- get it ready on a nice cool weekend. Prepare everything as mentioned and even if you don't get to mix it up until spring it will eventually become compost!

I always remember the elderly man that lived near us in the city who would compost his leaves and the pine needles behind his big pine tree where you couldn't see it unless you really looked. He had to have help mowing his lawn, but he never gave up on having that "hidden" compost pile! No matter how small you start, you will feel like you've done a good thing by "recycling" your fall yard waste into something you can share with your garden later.

Here is a list of what you CAN compost.

-fruit and vegetable scraps--peelings etc.

-tea bags, loose used, coffee grounds and filters

-egg shells

- leaves, grass clippings, straw, hay

-sawdust, wood shavings

-manure--except cat and dog

-spent annuals, frostbit plants, veggies, etc.

-wood ash (fireplace or fire pit ash etc.)

Never put any fat or meat in your pile. You also want to alternate ingredients. The household leftovers can be layered, then the straw, leaves etc. Wood ashes can be sprinkled between layers--as can the grass clippings. The pile should be moist, but not wet. You can put plastic over the pile if you are going through a rainy period--just remove as needed.

Even if you don't compost on a regular basis you can do this with your fall leaves. Pile them up--chop if you can--and keep it moist. It will take up to 6 months, but you will get a nice, crumbly compost that you can use in your garden. You can cover the pile with black plastic if you wish, or make a bin out of wood or fencing.

Reminder: If any of your perennials were diseased this year-- including mildew, OR any other problem, cut them back now and DO NOT compost the leaves. Burn them or add to the yard waste bin for disposal. Some diseases can hold over if left on the plant or if they are left around the base of the plant.


We have an indoor worm compost bin in our kitchen with red wigglers and outdoors we use pallets from hubby's work and use 4 by 4 posts cemented and then hook the pallets to it to make a 3 bin compost. We use old carpet to lay over it. I love my compost. It saves a lot on the garbage bill. We stopped our garbage service and only run to the dump rarely when we have to since recycling and composting. It's a big money saver two fold. It saves on garbage collection and wonderful compost. ~Cheryl

Pallets make the best composting bins. You just knock off the bottom piece of wood and "plant" the posts- leave a little space before ground level for some air to get in. If they rot in a year or two, just put in some new ones. You'll see discarded pallets along the road all the time. Also, you can grow vines on the outside of the compost bin. Veggies like tomatoes and beans do well too. I make mine three sided and load and unload from the front. I also tie them together where they meet at the sides in the back. ~Margie

For anyone who lives in the Rocky Mountain West, or anywhere else that has alkaline soil, you do not want to add wood ashes to your garden or your compost. Wood ashes, especially from the soft woods that grow in alkaline areas, are alkaline and only make a bad problem worse. I know many people in the Midwest with their wonderful, fertile, sweet soil are not aware of this problem. ~Cheryl



About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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