The Basics of Composing

My recent passion is growing beautiful flowers and I am also venturing into gardening. Composting is a vital part of this process. In this post, I will share the purpose of composting, things to put in your compost, what not to put in your compost, containers or areas for composting, the magic formula for composting, and how to use compost. (I will continue to update this post with additional composting tips.)

On a personal note, I miss my Dad who passed away a few years ago when it comes to gardening. He became a Master Gardener in his mid-70s and loved trees, plants, and flowers. I know he is tending Jesus’ garden in Heaven.

Why Compost?

Composting produces enriched organic material full of nutrients to improve the quality of soil and thus your garden, plants, and flowers will be healthier. It also reduces the need to use chemical fertilizers. I also like that it uses discarded materials in a beneficial way.

What Things to Put in Your Compost?

    • kitchen scraps such as fruits, vegetable scraps, eggshells, nutshells, coffee grounds, etc.
    • grass clippings after cutting the yard
    • leaves after raking the yard
    • garden & house plants such as old tomato plants at the end of the season, dead leaves from house plants, discarded flowers from bouquets, jack-o-lanterns from Halloween, etc.)
    • sawdust (but not from treated lumber)
    • twigs and sticks
    • newspaper (if there is such a thing these days)
    • weeds (If you add weeds, you must turn the pile frequently and it must heat to 145 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter. This will keep the weeds from germinating.) HERE is a helpful site about composting weeds.
    • Dirt (Sometimes, I dump leftover soil from flower pots after the growing season. This acts as a starter for my next batch of compost.)

I tend to put the following in my compost pile: eggshells, apple cores, banana peels, onion peel, aging fruits or lettuce, pistachio shells, coffee grounds, dead flowers from flower arrangements, and fallen leaves.

What Things NOT to Put in Your Compost?

    • meats or fatty materials (will attract rodents and make a mess of your compost)
    • bones (from chicken, steak, etc.)
    • dairy products
    • trash such as plastic, glass, etc.
    • wood ashes (from fireplace or campfires)
    • invasive plants and weeds such as poison ivy

Containers or Areas for Composting

Fenced or bordered area

This is what I originally used. I had landscape timbers as a border and eventually covered with a piece of hog wire to keep our dog Daisy from eating items in the compost pile. Daisy ate several corn cobs and got sick one day. Squirrels also took my apple cores but that was fine with me. Intermittent rain keeps the materials at the perfect level of dampness.

Note: We have since updated our deck since this picture.

If you use an open area, use a rake or shovel to “stir” the material periodically.

I discontinued using this composting method because we are converting this area to a greenhouse space and a 6-foot concrete path to the lake. When I deconstructed my compost pile, the soil was actually black because it was so nutrient-rich. It also had several earthworms, which enhanced my compost.

Constructed Pin/Container

This can be made from scrap wood. It is easy to add raw materials. It also allows for air circulation. It might be a little harder to stir the contents and rodents can easily access it. However, if you are ok with sharing your raw materials with critters, no harm.

Garbage can with holes

My son drilled holes in a large garbage can (with a snap-on lid) and used this as his family’s compost. When they moved, they gave this to me. This takes a little longer for materials to decompose because you can’t stir or mix the materials as easily. I now use this garbage can to store my fully decomposed compost. In other words, once my compost is fully decomposed, I transfer it to this garbage can.

Compost tumbler

I now use a compost tumbler and really like this process. They come in many different sizes. So you don’t have to be a master gardener to be a composter.

Many compost tumblers have two bins. Having two bins enables you to add raw materials to one side while the other side is in the process of decomposing materials. Over time, you alternate adding raw materials to give the other side time to decompose.

I use a one bin compost tumbler and then move the decomposed compost to the garbage can with holes that my son gave me. This process works well for me.

The Magic Formula for Composting

Add raw materials to your compost pile/bin/area

    • Try to add one part of greens (which produce nitrogen) to two parts of browns (which produce carbon)
      • GREENS are
        • kitchen scraps such as fruits, vegetables, eggshells, etc.
        • grass clippings
        • garden and house plants
      • BROWNS are
        • leaves
        • twigs
        • straw/hay
        • sawdust (not from treated wood)
  • Stir/Mix

    • Air circulation is an important part of the decomposing process.
    • If using a tumbler, fully rotate 5 to 10 times after adding new materials or every 2 to 3 days; this will help the materials decompose quicker.
    • If using an open area, use a rake or shovel to mix the materials every few weeks (or more).
    • If using a tumbler, check to see if your compost is getting hot a few days after adding new material. Turn the composter every few days after a batch heats up. The heat allows organisms to multiply and the materials to decompose.

Maintain Proper Moisture

    • It is important to have the proper moisture level; your mixture should feel like a damp sponge.
    • If your mixture feels dry, add a little water but don’t add too much.
    • When you add water, turn (or stir) the compost to mix the water with the material.
    • If the compost is not heating up, it might be too wet so add dry brown material; leaves work great.
    • Using an exposed bin or area gets rain and my experience caused this to be the right amount of moisture. The Good Lord knows best about this method or composting.
    • Also, if you have ants in your compost, no problem. Ants actually add valuable nutrients. However, if you have a lot of ants, your compost is most likely too dry so add more water. Remember, it needs to be moist like a sponge. Once you add water and then tumbler/mix the contents, you will see that it really heats up, which is what you want to create quality compost.

Be Patient

It takes about 2-8 weeks for the compost to be ready if using a tumbler.

It takes a little longer if using a garbage can because it is harder to stir.

Depending on how often you rake an open compost pile will influence how long it takes for the materials to decompose.

If you want your compost to decompose faster, chop up kitchen scraps into small pieces and shred grass, sticks, leaves, pinecones. The small the materials you add to the compost, the quicker it will decompose.

How to use compost

    • Your compost will contain fine and coarse material. You can sift your compost and use the fine compost in potting mixes. I typically do not sift my compost but instead mix coarse material with potting soil for my flowerpots.
    • The coarser compost also works well as a nutritious top-dressing around outdoor plantings or tilled directly into your garden.
    • I save some of the finished compost and use it as a starter for my next composting batch.
  • Add more brown matter if . . .

    • If your compost smells like ammonia, it has too much nitrogen (greens) so add more brown material (leaves work really well).
    • If your compost smells like rotten eggs, it is too wet and/or does not have enough oxygen so add dry browns to absorb the moisture, and be sure to turn or stir your compost which will aerate your mixture.
    • If flies and insects are overly prevalent. You can also add finished compost or more brown material.

Composting will help you have beautiful flowers and a thriving garden. The pictures below are just a few of my potted flowers that benefit from composting.

Check out Flowers that Not Only Survive but Thrive for this “Wannabe” Master Gardener.

Tell me what you think or if you have any questions, please comment below.

Be sure to revisit this post because I will be adding more tips and advice as my knowledge and experience increase.

Happy Composting!

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Author: Suzanne

Blogger and DIYer with my talented husband Neal. I share about our projects and life lessons following Christ.