Posted on October 27, 2011

Backyard Composting: Getting Started

This is the first in a series of composting articles: how to compost, why you should compost, and how to use compost. I hope you find them interesting and helpful. If there is something more I am leaving out, please comment.

Rotting kitchen scraps in your backyard may not be desirable to everyone at first thought. However, with little muss and fuss, those putrid peels and rancid rinds will turn into a fabulous soil amendment, better than a chemical fertilizer and cheaper than store-bought soil and mulch.

The first thing to understand is that composting is the controlled decomposition of organic material, in this case, apple cores and potato peels and raked leaves. Pretty much all veggie and fruit leftovers and many leaves, prunings, and dead plants can be put in the compost pile or bin. As the organic material decomposes, the temperature rises and different sets of micro and macroorganisms take over the responsibility of breaking down the waste. After a period of time, the food scraps and leaves are transformed into a dark and crumbly soil-like consistency that will benefit your plants in many ways.

Basic requirements for successful composting are a pile or bin large enough to accumulate enough mass to generate heat and even out moisture. An ideal bin or pile is 3×3 feet. Using a bin or a pile is an individual choice. Factors that may affect the bin/pile decision may include cost, ease of use, abundance of wildlife, and proximity to neighbors. My lot is small and my neighbors are close. I am sure they would not appreciate a pile of food scraps in the corner of my back yard. That is one of the reasons I have a bin. I actually have two bins, one that is a modified Rubbermaid trashcan that cost about $10 and the other is an Earth machine Composter that the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board (R-Board) sells. If you choose to use a bin, there are many styles and price ranges to consider.

The second thing to note about composting is the material that goes into the bin (or pile). Vegetable matter is a good thing, but meat, oils, and fats should be avoided. These things will quickly start to smell and attract unwanted vermin to your pile. Eggs and dairy products should be avoided or included sparingly too. However, eggshells are a great thing to include! The ratio of green nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps to brown carbon-rich yard waste should be one to four, by volume. I use dead plants, like last year’s annuals and raked leaves for the majority of my browns. I have also used some old mulch and straw.

The moisture content of the compost pile should be damp, like a wrung out sponge. If it is too soupy, the pile will start to smell. If it is too dry, the material will not decompose very well. Having the correct mix of nitrogen, carbon, and moisture will ensure quick decomposition and successful composting. Oxygen is also important in helping your organic material decompose. Turning your compost with a pitch fork or in a tumbler composting bin is the easiest way to ensure good aeration.

The Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board offers backyard composting classes in partnership with the Stafford County Cooperative Extension Office and the Master Gardeners. The last class for this fall is planned for Saturday, November 5 at 2pm. The class is free, will last about one and one half hours, and includes handouts. Please call 540-658-8000 to register. Classes will resume in the early spring.

This blog originally published by Julie May, courtesy of Fredericksburg Patch, with original article HERE!