How Do You Compost?

Until I got into gardening, I always thought a compost pile was just a big mess. I’ve known people who threw everything organic into their compost pile and they never really used it. But when I started gardening, I found out the benefits of having such a nutrient-rich supply of material at hand. There are all sorts of chemicals and fertilizers that you can get to help with your gardening but the best thing that you can do is start a pile of compost. It doesn’t take the place of a good fertilizer but it can do many things that fertilizers can’t. The best aspect of compost is it is natural, you don’t have to handle anything hazardous, and it gets rid of leaves in the yard and other organic trash. But how do you compost? What if you have never done it before? Can you throw anything into a compost pile? If you have any of these questions, or more, you can find the answers below.

How Does Compost Work?


Compost is the remains of decomposed organic matter. How does compost work? There are microbe decomposers such as bacteria, mold, and fungi that naturally ‘eat’ organic matter and break it down. These decomposers use aerobic digestion, or with oxygen, and anaerobic digestion, or without oxygen, to complete the process. Anaerobic can cause odors, mold, and other problems so it is up to you to encourage the aerobic process. You do this by turning the pile periodically to make sure it has plenty of oxygen and that everything gets digested evenly. Other factors are water and temperature. A compost pile needs to be moist like a damp sponge in order to process correctly. If it is too wet then there is more anaerobic digestion. Too dry and there is too much aerobic digestion. So an even level needs to be maintained. The warmer the temperature, the better. If a compost pile is too cool, it can go dormant and the process halts. It takes awhile for all of these processes to work, usually several months to a year depending on how often it is turned. If you want to use it, it is a good idea to start it at least six months ahead of time.

Benefits of Using Compost

There are many benefits of using compost. For one thing, it attracts earthworms which are also known as “a farmer’s best friend”. Compost can add organic matter back to the soil, stimulates soil microorganisms, increases water capacity of soil, increases soil nutrient retention, and suppresses soil diseases and pathogens. Also, compost contains nitrogen and phosphorous which are beneficial to plants.

What Goes Into A Compost Pile

When creating a compost pile. There are some do’s and don’ts. You want to create a balance between nitrogen-rich organics and carbon-rich organics. For the carbon organics, you want to use things from the yard such as dried leaves, straw, chipped tree branches, and paper. For the nitrogen organics, try grass clippings, old vegetables, coffee grounds, fruit, and old flowers.  You will want to use more carbon organics that nitrogen organics or all of the old vegetables and fruit will cause odors and mold.

There are some things that you should not throw into a compost pile. The main thing to avoid is animal products such as meats, fats, eggs, or dairy. You also shouldn’t use the compost pile as a place to deposit animal waste such as the cat’s litter box. Even though plant matter is good for compost, avoid putting hard to kill weeds into the pile or else the seeds will cause a problem later on when you use the compost.

Where Do You Store Compost

Compost piles need to be stored in a place where the pile will not spill over into other areas of the yard (and so you can keep things like the neighbor’s dog from digging in it). Many people build what is called a compost bin to store their compost in. The bin is usually a box made of wooden slats that are spaced apart similar to a wooden fence. This allows oxygen to get to the pile. The ideal size is around 3 feet by 3 feet. If the pile is too large, not enough oxygen can get to it and it will be too anaerobic. The best method to use is a three bin system. You have three separate bins that hold compost in different stages. The first bin is for fresh compost. The second bin is for compost halfway through the decaying process. And the third bin is for compost that is ready to use.

There are some manufactured bins that you can purchase. These bins, while costly, can help speed up the compost process, keep out bugs and insects, and look nicer in the yard than a wooden crate with leave spilling out.

How Do You Use Compost

When compost is ready, it will be dark and have an earthy smell. It shouldn’t smell rotten or moldy. Finished compost should also fairly crumble like dirt in your hands. If it is still heavy with recognizable materials, it is not ready.

You can use compost as an additive to soil. Turn it into the top four to six inches of top soil in any garden and it will improve the soil’s nutrients. You can also use it as a mulch by placing it around the base of shrubs, trees, and other woody-stemmed plants. If you have a bunch of plants in pots, you can use it as a mix with traditional potting soil.