One of the first things I ask when I’m starting a new project is: What equipment do I need?
It’s easy to get caught up in that question when it comes to composting — after all, we’re talking about stuff that’s essentially rotting. There are a lot of composting bins and tumblers on the market, so the bin is really important, right?
Well, not so much, say local gardening experts.
The key to successful composting is the mix of organic materials, regularly turning it and keeping it moist (but not too moist). Once you’ve done it awhile, you may want to keep track of the temperature of your compost pile — it gets really hot inside — but that’s veering into gardening nerd territory.
In this week’s Dig In video, Master Composter Dave Hopkins shows how easy it is to layer “browns” (dried leaves, sawdust and/or newspapers) and “greens” (grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps) in a compost bin.
The last step is to sprinkle the pile with water and keep it moist. But — again — not too moist.
“We say we want it as wet as wrung-out sponge,” Hopkins said. “It shouldn’t be dripping but it should feel moist.”
By the way, Hopkins gathers his kitchen scraps in a plastic coffee can. He fashioned his compost bin out of $15 “hardware cloth” (looks like wire mesh). He said it’s 10-foot long by 3-feet high, with a couple of boards strapped to the ends.
The temperature inside your compost pile will rise to about 140 degrees within a couple days. That’s desireable, because it accelerates decomposition and kills pathogens.
You should turn the pile about once a week to aerate it, helping the decomposition process along. Within six weeks or so, you should have some rich compost to add to your garden bed.
Do you need to add anything to the compost pile to ensure everything breaks down?
“Compost does not need help, although products are available that claim to boost the heat of the pile, thus encouraging faster break-down of materials,” said Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith.
Pro tip: The more you can break up or chop up the items in your compost, the quicker everything will decompose.
Be sure to read the two lists of things you should and shouldn’t compost — there are some things that will make it smelly and others that could be toxic.
Sometimes, you’ll just need to add some other organic material to the mix.
“One time, I added a lot of fallen pears to my bin,” Smith said. “It smelled rotten and boozy and was teaming with fruit flies. I stirred in a lot of fallen leaves and the problem went away in a couple of days.”
Want to dig deeper into composting? The Univesity of Idaho Extension-Ada County Office offers workshops, usually in the fall. To find out more or sign up, call 287-5900, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (There’s a $10 fee to cover workshop supplies and reference materials).
DO include any of these items: Aquatic plants, bread, branches (chipped), brush (chipped), coffee grounds, corn husks/stalks/cobs, cut flowers, egg shells, evergreen needles, fruit, garden trimmings, grass clippings, leaves, manure (cattle, horse, chicken, rabbit), paper, sawdust, straw, sod, tea leaves and bags, vegetables, weeds without seeds, wood ash, wood chips and shavings.
DON’T include these things (may cause odor or attract pests): Butter, bones, cheese and dairy products, fish scraps, lard, mayonnaise, meat and poultry, peanut butter, salad dressing, sour cream and vegetable oil.
WARNING, don’t include these items (may be sources of weeds, disease or toxins): cat manure, dog manure, diseased plants, plants with spreading rhizomes and invasive roots, such as quack grass and bindweed, weeds that have gone to seed.
Source: University of Idaho Extension