The Q&A Archives: Creating a compost heap

Question: I have started a compost pile/heap, using organic waste from my kitchen and garden. I am using an big, old black plastic trash can, and have drilled holes in the sides and bottom for ventilation. Can you tell me what else I should put in the compost. Paper? How much in relation to the other ingedients? Do I need to water the compost? Mix it up? How often? How long does it take until it's useable? Should I add perilte before putting it in my beds? Any other additives?

Answer: In addition to the green materials from your kitchen and garden, you'll need a source of brown materials: shredded leaves, sawdust, newspaper, etc. You can dump a shovelful of garden soil in with your biodegradables to help introduce organisms to help in the decomposition process. You shouldn't need to water your compost - there will be enough moisture from the green materials. But check to make sure. Grab a handful of material in your compost bin. It should feel damp, like a wrung out sponge. If it isn't, you can sprinkle it with water. Mix it at least once a week; twice a week or every other day is even better. The more you move the compost material, the hotter it gets and the faster it decomposes. You won't need to add perilite to the compost. It should come out of the composter looking like well-shredded mulch.

Composting isn't rocket science; decomposition is a normal breaking down of organic material. It works faster if you feed it with the right amounts of carbon and nitrogen, but it will still decompose if the quantities are not absolute and by the book. Here's what I do. Start with a layer of brown, toss on a layer of greens then cover that with a layer of brown. The layers should be about equal in weight or thickness. This should give you the right combination of carbon and nitrogen. Stir it all together to incorporate some air.

Good luck with your compost!

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