Compost Happens

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Learn to compost by making compost. The first step is to start.

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You don’t really need to know much about the science of decomposition to turn out great compost at home. Getting a feel for it, however, is essential, and that takes time. No one’s compost is exactly like anyone else’s. Given all the variables — pile size and content, particle size, turning frequency, moisture, rainfall, humidity, temperature and so on — it may seem a wonder that people can compost reliably at all.

Yet they do.

Getting the proportions right in a compost heap, especially if you’re trying for a hot pile, can take a fair amount of experience. All of the layering recipes are approximate and they don’t necessarily agree with each other. Still, following one of those recipes is certainly one of the best ways to begin. After that, it’s a matter of remembering how things went (a gardener’s notebook can help with this) and making adjustments until something works.

Other aspects of composting are similarly hard to pin down. Precisely what’s the best size for a pile? Well, somewhere between 3′ x 3′ x 3′ and 5′ x 5′ x 5′. But that’s a considerable range, and only you will be able to learn what works best for you.

How many piles should you keep going? What’s the best way to store materials before “building” a pile? Do you want the work of maintaining a hot pile or the ease of the cool pile? How likely is it that your piles will go anaerobic if they’re not turned?

Booksarticles and forums can help you with some of these questions. But in the end, you’ll have to dive in and get your hands dirty.

Related Questions

  • What products to compost

    Hello,

    You will be able to source all of the essential elements in order to build a great compost pile without having to look too far! As long as your carbon to nitrogen ratio is optimal (25-30:1) your compost pile will be breaking down properly. Here are some lists of acceptable additions:

    Carbon Rich Material "Browns"
    Cardboard (free of dyes)
    Corn stalks
    Fruit waste
    Leaves
    Newspaper
    Peat Moss
    Saw dust
    Stems & twigs
    Straw

    Nitrogen Rich Material "Greens"
    Alfalfa/Clover/Hay
    Algae
    Coffee grounds
    Kitchen food waste
    Garden waste
    Grass clippings
    Hedge clippings
    Manures
    Vegetable scraps
    Weeds (that have NOT gone to seed)

    ​Things to Avoid
    Meats
    Bones
    Fats/oils/grease
    ​Diseased plant material
    Colored paper
    Coal/charcoal
    Cat/dog waste
    Manures from carnivorous animals
    Onions
    Garlic
    Citrus peels

    As for the rhododendron and holly leaves, you can definitely put them in your compost pile. However, it is a good idea to really chop or shred them up, as they take much longer to break down due to their fibrous and waxy make up. It really depends on how quickly you are trying to create usable compost. It might be a good idea to have a separate pile going that you incorporate those leaves into and another pile that you do not. That way you can have a pile you know will rapidly break down into garden goodness and have yet another ready to use later on. Good luck!

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