Every gardener wishes for more compost—that dark, rich humusy stuff that is the result of the natural breakdown of organic materials. It is simply the best soil amender, fertilizer and top dressing.
Making compost isn’t difficult. The basic process consists of layering carbon-rich materials (i.e., the browns, such as dry leaves, shredded paper and straw; hay contains weed seeds that could germinate except in very hot piles) with nitrogen-rich materials (i.e., the greens, such as veggie and fruit peelings, coffee grounds and grass clippings) and letting them all rot down. Practically anything organic can go in, but never add meat, fat, dairy products, pet waste or pernicious weeds. Toss in a thin layer of garden soil occasionally to increase the microbes, worms and other organisms that help to break things apart. (Purchased compost accelerators aren’t really necessary.) Kept moist but not soggy, the pile heats up, enabling the critters to do their work and ultimately forming compost. Aerating the pile by turning it with a garden fork or a winged weeder hastens decomposition but does disturb those hard-working worms.
Types of composters
- Hoop bins: Perforated plastic or wire mesh fastened to stakes.
- Box bins: Made of wood slats with or without lids; the lidded plastic bins commonly available from garden centres and municipal compost programs.
- Multiple-bin systems: A large rectangular bin, lidded and divided into three square boxes, generally made of wood.
- Concrete blocks: Blocks are stacked to create a three- or four-sided bin.
- Hay bales: Stacked bales form a short-term composter that eventually composts itself.
- Tumblers: Metal drums that rotate on a stand; ball types that roll on a base or on the ground.