Composting, the process in which organic waste is reduced to a humus-like material that can be used to fertilize and enhance soil quality, is something every gardener can do. Adding compost to your garden soil helps to build soil and texture, retain the soil's nutrients, lighten heavy soil to help drainage, and support the essential bacteria in soil. A three-sided bin is needed to hold compost materials. These can be purchased or made using wire fencing or three wooden pallets attached with wire. Maintaining a healthy compost bin or pile is critical to ensure your garden also stays healthy.
Building a Healthy Compost Pile
Start your compost. Lay down 6 inches of carbon material (brown material) such as straw. Spring or fall is the best time to start a compost pile.
Cover carbon layer with 6 inches of green material (nitrogen), such as grass cuttings. To maintain health of the compost, do not use grass clippings if pesticides have been used.
Place kitchen waste (vegetables, coffee grounds, etc.) over the green material. Check with your local coffee shop to see if you can bring a bucket to collect coffee grounds. A local produce stand is a good place to collect vegetable waste.
Add organic fertilizer (not required but it can jump-start decomposition).
Add a thin layer of soil or manure. This actually works to keep odor and flies down. The higher temperature of a compost pile kill weeds and diseased plant material. Horse manure, seaweed and crab shells are good heat generators in a compost pile.
Repeat the layers until your pile reaches at least 3 feet high by 3 feet wide. The higher the pile, the more heat it generates, which kills disease and starts decomposition--both necessary for a healthy compost pile.
Add water to your compost pile. Compost needs moisture to decompose. Do not let your pile dry out, but also ensure it does not get too much water. Consider covering the bin if it rains a lot in your region.
Turn compost pile. After completing the compost layers let sit for a week or two. Then, using a rake, turn compost layers to increase decomposition.
Tips to Maintain Health
Use smaller materials because these break down more quickly. Avoid putting large pieces of wood or paper into the pile.
Use a variety of materials with different textures to give pile better air circulation. Air circulation increases the rate of decomposition.
Avoid putting the following materials into your pile which can carry disease or do not decompose well: dog, cat or human feces; animal urine; large amounts of oil; pine needles; meat products or bones; oak leaves; diseased plants; materials treated with pesticides.
Turn the pile and add moisture as you re-stack if it looks like nothing is happening or pile appears to not have decreased in height.
Add more carbon material if pile appears to be too wet. Compost will clump if too wet. The added carbon material allows more air circulation.