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How to Compost: A Step-by-Step Guide

written by: jciotta•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 3/24/2011

Learn how to compost with this easy guide. Discover how to select composting materials both from your kitchen and your backyard to make rich, organic compost for your garden.

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    Compost Materials

    Composting Materials The best way to grow plants is in natural compost. Many gardeners choose to make their own compost since it's cheap and can be a very easy process. Composting is up to the individual. A gardener may decide to create an elaborate compost or a more simple recipe. Thus, the process of composting of is simply up to you.

    To begin, garden composts typically consist of kitchen food waste and matter from the Earth. For example, usual compost materials are everyday items such as coffee grounds, eggshells, teabags, fruit and vegetable scraps and paper towels, bags and cardboard boxes -- believe it or not. From the earth, a gardener can collect these composting materials: fall leaves, grass cuttings, old straw, old hay, tree clippings and weeds.

    Make sure not to use any meats, oils, fats or animal waste. Also, do not to use diseased or pesticide/herbicide-ridden plants or weeds that are in seed. Many gardeners now abstain from using animal materials such as manure from cows and horses. This is due to fear of disease i.e. mad cow disease.

    Stick with the natural, meatless materials listed above and add soil. The soil should be finely textured, allowing the compost to become more porous. In other words, the soil will remain moist and become less likely to erode. Soils with clay or clay-loam structures are the best for a compost.

    Moisture is important to your compost because you want it to be damp and control the compost's smell. At the same time, you don't want it to be too wet because then the compost will decrease in temperature. If the compost isn't moist enough, the ingredients will not decompose. In the next section, we will discuss how to obtain the correct balance of moisture.

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    Composting Step by Step

    How to Make a Compost Now that you know what materials to use, we'll go through the process of how to compost step by step. Don't be intimidated. It may seems like a lot of instructions, but it's actually quite simple and after a couple of times composting, you'll get the hang of it. Here are the steps:

    • Buy or make a compost bin. You don't have to do this, but it's good to keep the compost gathered in one place. The bin should have a hole in one side where you can throw in compost materials and turn the compost.
    • Make sure you have enough green and brown waste from the Earth. Why? Green waste such as grass clippings or weeds add nitrogen. Brown waste such as brittle leaves can are high in carbon. This combination makes for an ideal composting situation.
    • Tip: Too many grasses, weeds and other green waste can make the compost smell horrible.
    • So now you've got your all your waste in the bin. It's time to add in soil. Adding soil will help along the process of decomposition.
    • Here's where the moisture comes in. You have to check the moisture once a week. It should feel damp, but not too wet or too dry. If the compost is too wet, add more brown waste. If it is dry, simply add water. Remember, the moisture should be in balance for the compost to heat up and start decomposing.
    • Turn the pile once a week to maintain airflow. The compost materials needs a supply of oxygen in order to properly decompose.
    • In a couple months, your compost should be ready. It should look like dark dirt and the materials should be fully decomposed. It should smell like dirt from the Earth and be moist. Another sure sign it is ready is it no longer heats up.
    • Now you can use it in your organic garden.

    The end result is always to have a usable compost for gardening. But there are other great reasons to compost. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists composting as a top eco-friendly way to help the environment. The EPA reports that compost has been proven to suppress plant diseases and pests, and eliminate the need for fertilizers laced with chemicals. And the best part is composting is cheap, since it is used as a cover for landfills.

    Best of all, composting is simple. Using the aforementioned composting tips will help your garden plants grow healthy and strong. And you can feel great about saving money and helping the environment in the process.

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    References

    "How To Make Your Own Compost" -- veggiegardener.com/category/composting/

    US Environmental Protection Agency -- epa.gov/wastes/conserve/rrr/composting/benefits.htm

    Photos by Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net -- freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=404