How to - Techniques

Compost basics

Laura Langston
Photography by
Tai Kim McPhail

Turn kitchen scraps into food for your garden

Making compost is the ultimate in recycling magic. With little effort and virtually no expense, you can transform vegetable and fruit peelings, grass clippings and garden waste into dark, rich, crumbly compost.

Along with improving soil texture and providing nutrients to plants, compost conserves water and helps control soil erosion. It also results in less waste going to landfill sites. According to Susan Antler, executive director of the Compost Council of Canada, if everyone-industry, restaurants and private citizens-across the country composted, we could reduce the amount of garbage destined for our landfills by half.

Highly versatile, compost can be dug into the garden, or used as a top dressing or as a mulch; it also adds valuable nutrients when transplanting.

There is no mystery to making good compost. A compost pile mimics the process nature uses to break down organic matter by combining nitrogen (found in kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, green grass clippings, fresh plant trimmings and weeds, and manure) and carbon (such as dry, brown plant material like dead leaves, grass or plants, wood products and paper) with air and water.

Simply heap all the ingredients together in an open pile, add water and turn it regularly with a shovel. Enclosed bins, which promote faster decomposition and dis­courage rodents, are best, particularly in urban areas (many municipalities or com­post education centres sell bins at reduced rates). You can also make your own com­poster out of scrap wood. To discourage rodents but maintain air circulation, line it with wire mesh (ensure the openings are no greater than one to two centimetres).

Put your compost pile in an easily accessible area near a water source, but away from sheds, dense shrubs or bird feeders. Ensure the ground is level and provides good drainage. A partly sunny exposure is helpful but not essential. (For how to layer your compost pile, see “In Good Order,” next page.)

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