Tips for healthy, helpful compost for a successful garden for years to come

Composting is a fairly easy process. A successful and active compost should smell like fresh dirt and nothing else. If it smells like something other than fresh dirt then you may attract unwanted pests and you need to look through the following guidelines to amend the compost situation.

First, pick a spot for your composter like a corner in or near the garden in close proximity to where you will use the soil. As you are able to compost all year round, place the composter where you will have easy access to it once it snows.

Next, decide on method of containing the materials you wish to compost. A container is not necessary but helps to keep the material under control. You may choose a plastic molded model or construct one from scrap wood or pieces of chain-link fencing. If you construct one of wood, just make sure you design it so that it has some form of airflow. Place your composter on level ground with good drainage. Composting activity will take place whether you place the composter in full sun or the shade but heat from the sun will speed the process, especially in the winter when the air is cold.

Now you need two main ingredients to begin your garden compost recipe. You need nitrogen-rich “green” materials such as fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, eggshells, coffee grounds with the filter, nut shells, fresh grass clippings, garden vegetation and trimmings, wood ashes. Garden weeds are OK too as long as you allow them to fully compost. You also need some carbon-rich “brown” materials such as, dry leaves, straw, sawdust (in thin layers), dead grass or plants and wood chips. Once you have both types of compostable materials collected you are ready to begin composting.

When starting a fresh compost pile, I like to add a little soil from the garden in the bottom of the container just to get things started. Alternately, layer your “green” materials and “brown” materials until the composter is three quarters full. You can chop or shred some of the material into smaller pieces in order to speed up the decay process. It is important to add “green” and “brown” material together throughout the composting process. You can save a few bags of fall leaves to add to the composter when you seem to have only green items throughout the summer. As the volume of the compost settles, you can add more material as needed. Maintain a balance of both the green and brown materials otherwise you will slow down the composting process considerably and end up with a pile of rotten, slimy green stuff or a dry pile of brown material that will not break down.

It is also important to keep the composting pile moist but not soaking wet. You will have to water it in the beginning, but if you keep the “green” and “brown” balanced throughout the process you probably will not have to water the pile again. Good aeration is also crucial to a successful composting process. To achieve this, open the vents on your composter model. You will also want to give the contents a stir and “fluff’ it up with a garden fork or shovel from time to time.

Do not compost charcoal, coal ashes or barbecue briquettes, large pieces of wood, meat, bones, fats, oil or oily foods, dairy products, diapers or sanitary products and especially not pet waste. Also do not compost diseased or insect infected plants, woody yard waste that hasn’t been shredded or chipped first and crab grass. If you add fresh lawn clippings, make sure to add them in thin layers and mix them in well because grass clippings tend to clump and compact, forming a slimy stinky mess otherwise.

After a few months you should have produced some compost. You will know it is ready to use when it looks like black garden soil. If there are some remains of slower composting items like nut shells and twigs you can screen them out and return them to the pile. Compost is used like fertilizer or manure in your garden. You can mix it into planting holes, add to your houseplant soil, use it as a mulch or top dressing in your garden, around trees and shrubs or in your flowerbed.