SKILLS: Successful Gardening with Composting


  • By: Jonathan Dick
  • Posted on: March 27, 2013

Mother Nature has been rotating through the composting process of decomposing organic material into rich soil that will foster new life for longer than any of us can imagine.

You can use that same process at an accelerated pace to save you money and help you become self-reliant with a nutrient-rich garden.

Composting significantly reduces pest problems while creating healthy plants that use less pesticides. You’re adding organic material to your soil to help improve moisture retention and composting saves money while providing a healthy balance to your soil.

How to Compost
compostWhile composting is a natural process, there are ways that you can make it go faster. Here’s how:

1. Pick a dry, shady spot to locate your compost pile. You’ll want to make sure that there is a water source nearby and that the pile is close to the area you plan to use the compost.

2. Collect organic material like grass clippings, old fruit peels, etc. (we’ll talk more about this below) that you can use in your compost pile. You’ll want to chop these items up as much as possible – the smaller the pieces, the faster they will break down.

3. Lay down a layer of 6-inches of paper shreds or dried leaves. These are rich in carbon and should work well as a first layer. Wet down the material until they are moist – but not too wet. They should have the moisture of a wrung out sponge.

4. Next, you’ll add a 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich materials like kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc.

NOTE: The optimal compost heap should maintain about a 3-to-1 ratio of organic carbon material to nitrogen material. Your pile will also need to be at least 1 yard wide to maintain the heat it needs.

5. Add another 3-inch layer of leaves or paper strips followed by a 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich material. Repeat this a few times until your pile is sufficiently tall.

6. Once you’ve built up your pile, sprinkle a handful of healthy garden soil or a previous compost pile on top. This will boost the level of microbes in the soil that are needed to break down the materials.

7. Turn your compost pile with a pitchfork every few week or two. Mix the layers making sure that moisture is evenly distributed and the outer layers are moved to the inside to redistribute heat.

8. After a few weeks you may notice that the pile stinks or might even be steaming – this is fine – it’s working.

What Can I Use to Compost?
Composting focuses on locating good materials that are rich in nitrogen or rich in carbon. Here are a few ideas:

Nitrogen-Rich Materials
Table Scraps Use with dry carbon items
Fruit & Vegetables Use with dry carbon items
Grass Clippings Add in thin layers so they don’t clump
Lawn & Garden Weeds Only weeds that haven’t gone to seed
Green Comfrey Leaves Excellent activator
Seaweed or Kelp Apply in thin layers
Chicken Manure Excellent activator
Coffee Grounds You can also include the filter
Tea Leaves Bags or loose
Carbon-Rich Materials
Leaves Shred them
Shrub Prunings  
Straw or Hay  
Pine Needles Use moderately since pine is slightly acidic
Wood Ash Sprinkle lightly
Newspaper Avoid colored or glossy paper
Shredded Paper Avoid colored or glossy paper
Cardboard Shred the cardboard to breakdown
Corn Cobs Chop up
Dryer Lint Best if from natural fibers
Sawdust Pellets Spread thin to avoid clumping
Wood Chips Use sparingly

It’s not recommended that you use meat, bones or dairy products to create compost. The grease and oils break down slower and draw animals to the compost pile.

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Updated: March 13, 2014 — 6:50 pm

The Author

Rich Fleetwood

Rich is the founder of SurvivalRing, now in it's 24th year, author of multimedia CDs and DVDs, loves the outdoors, his family, his geeky skill-set, and lives in rural southern Wyoming, just below the continental divide (long story, that...). Always ready to help others, he shares what he learns on multiple blogs, many social sites, and more. With a background in preparedness and survival skills, training with county, state, and national organizations, and skills in all areas of media and on air experience in live radio and television, Rich is always thinking about the "big picture", when it comes to helping individuals and families prepare for life's little surprises.

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