How to Start Composting at Home

If your vegetable garden or flower beds are in need of a pick-me-up, the first thing you might consider is buying some fertilizer. However, most plant fertilizers are chemical in nature and provide only a few isolated nutrients. They do nothing to replenish or improve the soil your plants are growing in. For that reason, more home gardeners are opting to maintain their own compost bin for a source of free, natural and high-quality fertilizer. Best of all, it's easier than you might think. Here's how to get started.

Make Room

First, you have to decide where you want your compost heap. Keep in mind that full exposure to sunlight will aid the decaying process, so you'll want it in a sunny location. Having it on a slight downward slope and in a bottomless enclosure will prevent excess moisture from building up and causing the heap to rot. Ample air circulation is the most critical element to successful composting. It helps the compost maintain the proper temperature and keeps it from becoming too wet. You should take care not to place your heap where it will be too sheltered from the wind.

Sourcing Materials

To start your own compost pile, you need to obtain some raw materials. This is one of the most interesting parts of the process as it lets you customize the end product. For instance, if you want to use it on your flowers, you could choose materials that are high in phosphorus, which supports blooming. For general composting, almost anything goes. Coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable and fruit scraps, fallen leaves, tea bags, paper bags, cardboard and newspaper are all acceptable composting ingredients. However, items like meat, bones, fat, pet waste, plastic or glossy paper should not be composted. If you're having trouble sourcing enough raw materials, try talking to your local coffee shop or produce stand to see if they'll donate their grounds and old produce.

Tending the Heap

The most effort you'll put into your compost heap is when you're tending it. Every couple of weeks, you'll need to turn the compost with a pitchfork. This ensures that everything decays evenly and spends time in the hot center. Because the temperatures in a healthy compost heap can get surprisingly high, it's recommended to wear gloves when working in it. You must also make sure the pile isn't too wet or dry. If it feels too wet, you should add more dry items like paper, cardboard, dry leaves or sawdust. If it's too dry, spend a few minutes spraying it down with the hose. It should feel moist like well-drained soil.

Depending on the conditions in your particular compost bin, you may have usable compost within six weeks. This incredibly rich natural fertilizer can be tilled into the soil or sprinkled around plants to help provide nutrients and enrich the soil.

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