Compost – Basics 101

Q: I am trying composting for the first time so I bought one of those compost enclosures in August. At this point it looks more like a garbage pile than what I expected compost to look like. Any suggestions?

A: New-born babies aren’t so attractive at first either, but you wouldn’t reject them would you? I know composters who stick their noses in every pile to inhale the aroma. I know others who plant flowers around their pile to hide it from view. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder! Your compost pile is functioning normally but things are progressing slowly because you started in August and the weather became cool before the materials decomposed.

Here are the basics to making a compost pile you can brag about year-round:

1. Make it big enough. A pile three feet high and six feet wide can hold enough heat on a cold night to keep the decomposing fungi happy. A smaller pile gets cold and stops working until the weather warms up again.

2. Regularly add green materials or fertilizer. The creatures that break down your leaves and kitchen waste need nitrogen in order to do their job. They can get nitrogen from lawn clippings but you’ll need a lot: a layer three inches thick for every six inch layer of brown leaves. If you don’t have clippings, just add a cup of 10-10-10 to the pile and water it in. In a couple of days, the pile will be smokin’!

3. Mix up the pile with a shovel or rake. Oxygen helps the decomposers do their dirty work.

4. If all else fails, cover your “garbage pile” with pine straw and call it a “landscape focal point”. Harvest black compost from it in May and no one will be the wiser.