A Modest Investment
To start, you'll need a compost bin. Some compost bins are simple covered containers; others are attractive mini-structures or tiers that increase in size as needed. Compost bins are sized from small to large, normally accommodating approximately 10 to 16 cubic feet or 90 to 120 gallons. A worm composter of red worms creates batches of compost rich in nutrients, and a compost tumbler stores and effortlessly mixes up batches. Inexpensive aerators create paths for air and water to circulate.
Factors to Consider
Composting happens in nature automatically, but the process is slow. To be of use in your garden, a compost pile needs to decompose quickly. Temperature, oxygen, water content, and ratios of carbon-to-nitrogen play key roles in the speed at which organic matter decomposes.
Dark-colored garden compost bins attract sun and heat, and larger compost piles reach higher temperatures. Decomposition occurs best from 90 to 140 degrees; decomposing slows down when temperatures reach 170 degrees. Ventilation is needed to reduce odors and speed the decaying process. Water and oxygen keep alive the bacteria, fungi, microbes, and other microorganisms that help decompose waste. Organic matter is divided by one part greens (nitrogen) and three parts browns (carbon).
Preparing the Compost Box
Step One: Gather greens (coffee grounds and tea bags, fruit and vegetable trimmings, grass clippings, hair, house and garden plants, and tree prunings) and browns (shredded newspaper and cardboard, cotton or wool scraps, crushed nutshells and eggshells, dry leaves, dry yard trimmings, straw, sawdust, and untreated woodchips) to fill the compost bin.
Step Two: Start with loose soil, add 6 inches of carbon-rich waste and water until completely dampened. Add a thin layer of soil, followed by 2 inches of nitrogen-rich waste and water; continue the layering process, ending with a carbon-rich layer.
Step Three: Weekly turn or mix the compost to add air, and lightly water the mixture. The compost pile will shrink in volume, and in about 3 or 4 months, a dark, earthy, crumbly humus becomes your finished composting project.