I’m ramping up my gardening game so I decided it was time to make my own soil. It’s pretty easy and you can do it to! Nothing is better for your garden than quality compost, and what better way to know the quality than by making it yourself! Making it in your own backyard, allows you to know exactly what went into it and make it to suit your gardening needs. The first thing I did when I decided I needed compositing in my life was to do some research. I didn’t anticipate quite what I was getting into… There are multiple models you can buy, some you can build as well as other methods that don’t require you to spend any money, they just need some space.
So let’s start by looking at the options…
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
1. Standard compost bin
These are the go-tos for most people and they do the job well. They are enclosed on all four sides and come with a lid, which can help to discourage pests but this can depend on the smarts of your particular raccoons. They tend not to be too expensive, which is both good and bad. Good for your wallet (in the short term) and bad as they can be made of thinner plastic so they may chip if they freeze. As I live in Canada this was a deciding factor for me not getting this type, but if you live somewhere warmer then this is a good option. There are however some good options in this category such as this one, it’s the same style my parents used for years.
This bad boy was my composter of choice! The tumbler models tend to be much faster at creating amazing quality soil due to the fact that you can continually rotate the composting material which greatly improves the air flow and speeds up the process. One negative to this method is that there are no worms. It’s not like they can climb up in there, even if they could I don’t think they would appreciate getting all jumbled up every few days.
What this means is that you won’t get the benefits of the worms chewing up and spitting out all the goodies you put in there which will mean some added nutrients may be lacking. I still decided to go with this type as it doesnt take up much space. This is the model I chose which went together easily with The Hubby helping (you will need two sets of hands) and it is well built and sturdy (no thin plastic on this baby)! It has two chambers, a 37 gallon capacity and its made of recycled plastic which makes it win-win for sure. This really is most efficient enclosed bin method, just make you remember to give it 5-6 rotations every 2-3 days. This will ensure you are mixing everything up and getting the air flow in there!
3. No-turn compost pile
This is the cheapest method but it requires some work to make sure it is properly aerated without turning. The trick is to mix in enough coarse material when building the pile. This means starting with a base of branches, dead perennial plant stems or use a wooden pallet to allow air to get access to the bottom of the pile. Another way to get air in is to add airflow tubes as you build the pile. These can be made from rolling chicken wire into tubes or getting some PVC pipe and drilling loads of holes into it. The holes should be spaced out, about every 6″ along the length of the pipe.
If you don’t feel like buying a compost you can always make one. It can be as simple as a large garbage can with holes drilled in it to allow the air in or you can get your DIY on and build it from wood such as this one from Ana White (who I love). There are loads of other styles and plans that an easily be found on Pinterest.
5. Worm Composting
Worm composting or vermicomposting does not use the “night crawlers” you are probably picturing. It utilizes red worms (Eisenia foetida also known as red wigglers) or manure worms (Lumbricus rubellus) which need to be fed about once a week. Don’t just rush out and buy loads of worms as if they are well fed and cared for they can double their population every 90 days! You will need to set down a bedding for the worms which can easily be made from soaked shredded cardboard and newspaper (no coloured ink please). The bedding should fill the bin between 1/3 and 1/2 full and keep in mind that the worms need a temperature between 10-24C (50-75F). Here are plans to build one (another Ana White DIY) or if you aren’t feeling particularly crafty today then you can always buy one.
6. In home composter
Now I’m not sure how I feel about this one, but I came across it while I was researching what model to get and if nothing else it has me intrigued. They claim you can use this system to compost inside, all year-round with no flies or foul-odour…AND…you can compost meat and bones. This type of composting is different that the other five as it relies on an anaerobic method. So if anyone is feeling brave this is definitely an option. If anyone has tried this model I would love to know how it worked for you!
Some important things to remember no matter what option you choose
Let it breathe
Air is key when it comes to composting as it is an aerobic process! The microbes that will help give you new soil need oxygen to do their job, as it helps them to grow quickly, produce energy and consume more matter. Without air circulation everything will get bogged down and that’s when things can start to smell and get disgustingly slimy and dense. The type of composter you have chosen will determine how you need to aerate. This is where tumblers have a leg up as all you have to do is give them a few turns. With other methods you will need to get your back into it, grab your trusty pitch fork, shovel or if you are really fancy a compost aerator.
Keep the carbon vs nitrogen ratio in balance
Both carbon and nitrogen are keep to composting and to the health of your garden. Make sure you include plenty of carbon-rich (brown) material. Such as branches, stems, dried leaves, shredded brown paper bags, dryer lint, evergreen needles, paper, egg cartons, cardboard and egg shells. For the nitrogen contingent include such things as food scraps, green grass clippings, coffee grounds and green leaves. These protein-rich (green) matter provide the raw material for making enzymes. Just remember that you need much more carbon matter than nitrogen matter. I try to aim for 1/3 green to 2/3 brown. Too much nitrogen in your compost pile will be too dense and will start to smell. I mean smell bad…..like really bad (not that this EVER happened to me…cough, cough).
Hold the meat and a few other things!
Some things are best left out of the compost bin for a variety of reasons. Meat, bones and fish scraps don’t belong in your garden composter (unless you have a special composter) as they will attract pests. Skip any perennial weeds or diseased plants as the seeds or diseases could be spread with your new soil. It is best to avoid certain peels as they tend to have a lot of pesticides. Common offenders are banana, peach and citrus…so best to leave those bad boys out too.
Keep it small and always layer
While everything eventually breaks down, things do it on varying time scales. One tip to speed up the process is to chop things up as small as possible. If you do put grass clippings in make sure to spread them around. Don’t just dump them in at once as they can make a clump that could end up getting stinky. Whenever possible, try your best to layer the green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) layers.
As with anything new that is attempted, mistakes will be made and lord knows I made mistakes. I fell victim to number 1 and 2, but they are easy enough to rectify and so I powered on!
1. Good god what is that smell?
There is nothing worse than trying to make some amazing soil and worrying that the neighbours are going to call the cops for fear that you have a dead body in your back yard. The main culprit is most likely an imbalance in the carbon (brown) to nitrogen (green) ratio. Or it could be caused by having some meat in the compost. To rectify the situation is add in some dry grass cuttings and remember that your compost prefers to be vegetarian! If things get out of control then you can some lime or calcium to help neutralize the smell.
2. Lord of the flies
It could be anything from fruit flies to house flies…yuck! First things first you will need some of those all powerful dried grass clippings! Keep a pile of them near your composter, when you add in food scraps include a layer of clippings. Lime or calcium can also come to your rescue with flies and it will help to make them disperse.
3. Um…why is it steaming?
A steaming compost is actually a good thing! Compost piles like to be hot, about a balmy 54-66C (or 130-150F for any Americans). The heat indicates that all microbes are hard at work making some lovely soil. As a side benefit a temperature of 60C (140F) will help to kill any stray seeds from perennial weeds.
So empowered with this new knowledge go forth and make some amazing soil!
Once you have your compost game on point you can use it to grow some kick ass things like rhubarb!