We recently started a vegetable garden. For most families, that means considering how much space you have versus what you want to grow. Maybe even strategic planting to ensure the plants get enough sun to produce a nice harvest.
Grocery-budget conscious families would consider what’s the most expensive produce to buy in their area, and try to grow that instead.
My family is a little different. Before any plants or seeds went into our garden, the first thing I did was to start a compost pile.
Why should you compost?
Compost makes the best soil. Think pricey, organic rich garden soil you’d have to pay big bucks for. When you invest a little time learning to compost, it’s all yours, for free!
It’s fun for kids to see how food decomposes. You’ll win the best mom or dad award when you let your kids sift through the finished and half-finished compost and see what creatures have made their homes there. It’s got all the makings of a winning science fair project!
Composting reduces your household trash. You know the Crumbs family is serious about reducing trash, right? Instead of icky lettuce leaves and onion skins festering in the trash can for up to a week, the kitchen scraps can start decomposing right away in the compost pile.
It’s hard to mess up. Your garden plants may wither and die, but compost is pretty much foolproof. You dump your compostables in and forget about them, until it’s time to harvest the rich, crumbly results of your (lack of) labor. That’s my kind of project!
Composting is good for the environment. Some communities even offer a compost material pickup along with trash service. But for most of us, the only way to keep this material out of the landfill is to compost it at home.
Getting started composting is easy. Here’s a list of suggested supplies and printable compost do’s and don’ts. Once you’ve got your supplies, you’re ready to start.
Composting Basics for Beginners: The Basic Set-up
- Pick a spot for your pail. I keep mine under my kitchen sink (I’m trying to keep my counters free of clutter).
- Tell your family the plan. You might want to leave the pail out for a couple weeks to help everyone remember not to toss those apple cores and banana peels. After a while, it will become second nature and you’ll cringe when you’re away from home and you have to throw those things out. At least, that’s what happened for me.
- Pick a spot for you pile or bin. You want a place that isn’t too close to a door or window that’s left open in case you attract flies (but more on how to solve that problem below). You want it to be close enough to the house that it’s not a big deal to carry the pail out every day. Ours is right next to our brand new vegetable garden.
What can you compost?
- Kitchen waste – Mainly produce trimmings. Think onion skins, celery roots (if you’re not re-growing them), apple cores, banana peels, potato peels.
- Coffee grounds (filters are fine, too)
- Tea bags
- Grass clippings
- Dead leaves
- Garden waste
Don’t compost these things:
- Meat or bones
- Leftovers that aren’t primarily plant material
- Tougher plant material from your garden like branches or stalks (it takes too long to break down)
- Garden waste that has been treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizer
- Weed seeds and roots – you might inadvertently spread them to your garden beds
- Diseased plant material
Composting in Action
Now that you’re set up, just start collecting compostable material and add it to your pile.
We empty a pail or two daily into our pile and it’s the perfect chore for my 8 year old son. I depend on my kids to do a lot of chores and this is one of their favorites.
I also add garden clippings and dead plants and leaves to the pile as I’m working in the garden.
We have a large lawn so I keep a separate pile of grass clippings and toss a handful or so in over any kitchen scraps that are attracting bugs. Wash out your pail when it gets icky (about every other day for us).
Turn your compost pile.
Every month or so (or less often if you’re not in a hurry for finished compost), grab your pitchfork or a shovel and mix your pile up a bit. This helps speed up the decomposition process, heats up your pile, and keeps away any unwanted pests.
Harvest your finished compost.
Over time, the material at the bottom of your pile will start to look like the nicest, richest soil you’ve ever seen. When you don’t see any more recognizable scraps, the compost is ready to be used.
Harvest your compost from the bottom of your pile once or twice a year. Whatever isn’t yet ready just goes back into the pile to continue breaking down.
Spread your finished compost…
…on your garden beds or use in container gardens. You probably don’t want to bring it into the house since it should be home to many, many little critters.
Potential Problems with Composting
Before we started composting, my husband was concerned it would be a smelly, fly-attracting affair. But that was never really a problem. If your pile starts to stink or you see flies, just give it a quick turn and add some grass clippings or leaves if available.
Not Enough Space
Composting only requires 9 square feet of space, or less if you choose a smaller space-saving bin. And since it’s just about the easiest garden task you can undertake, it’s an excellent use of your yard space.
Depending on where you live, raccoon or rodents may be attracted to your pile. We haven’t had problems, but if you anticipate them, you can either get an animal-resistant bin or turn your pile more regularly (a hot pile isn’t as attractive to animals)
Some people think composting is messy, but it’s really no worse than taking out the trash. Plus, you don’t have that food rotting in the trash can waiting for trash day.
Additional Composting Resources
Our family had composted for many years. I really missed it when we moved to our dream home. I hadn’t made the time to start up again until this spring. Now I’m so glad that I can toss those apple cores into the compost pail and watch them decompose before my eyes!
Do you compost? Why or why not?
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