Compost Heaven

How To Compost in Four Easy Steps

And You Can Ignore the Fourth One!

Composting is easy.

There's very little you need to know to learn how to compost.

Forget recipes and formulas.  I will give you basic ideas of what to add and Mother Nature will take it from there.

Step One: Balance the Greens and Browns

The first step to learn how to compost is understanding your ingredients as "brown" or "green".

Green Compost ingredientsGreen ingredients supply your pile with nitrogen.  These additions are often green and wet--kitchen scraps, fresh lawn clippings, weeds pulled from your garden.  Every pile needs the green ingredients, but if all you have is green stuff, your pile can turn stinky and mucky.  Too much green stuff can lead to a rotting pile instead of a composting pile.

Brown Compost ingredientsBrown ingredients supply your pile with carbon.  These items are often brown and drier--fall leaves, branches, hedge clippings, straw, etc.  The carbon is very necessary but again, too much has its consequences.  If you have a pile with mostly prunings from your hedge and other woody stuff, the pile can take years to break down.  It can sit there and linger in your back yard and you may begin to make plans to will your compost to your grandchildren.

Every compost pile needs a balance between nitrogen supplying ingredients and carbon supplying ingredients.

Compost Pile Diagram

What is "Balanced"?

I have seen many different formulas about how much brown matter will balance the green--3 parts carbon to 1 part green, 1:1, even 30:1.

I have never figured out how this is supposed to work--it is by weight or volume?  And how does one branch stack up against a bucket of old banana peels and coffee grounds?  Plus, we often have one or the other at any given time, and can rarely mix a pile perfectly.

Instead, just keep in mind that you need both greens and browns.  Be relaxed.

It is an art, not science to figure out how to compost.

Take the organic matter you have and to the best of your ability, alternate layers about every 2-3".

A pile which is very green will heat up quickly because of the bacteria it attracts.  You may need to turn it a couple of times to get the bacteria going again, and when they are exhausted, you will have a pile which has composted--but not completely.  The bacteria do not digest carbonous material well, so you may have twigs and branches left in the mix.

A pile which is way too green may rot and smell.

If your pile is very brown, plan on giving it a long time.  These piles will compost cooler and slower.  The fungi will do their thing but they aren't quick about it.  Put the pile in an out of the way spot and wait.  And if you only have brown matter, wait even longer.

If you have the option, layer the greens and browns so that you can get the advantage of both ingredients.  Bury your kitchen scraps in a pile of fall leaves, and add some lawn clippings to the hedge prunings.

The first step to learning how to compost is balancing your greens and browns.  The next steps take that information and give the pile its other key ingredients--water and air.

How to Compost--Part 2:  Water, Air and Extras

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