Composting Success

I wrote an earlier post called "The Secret in the Garden" in which I revealed that your SOIL is the most important component in your garden.  

The most beneficial thing you can add to your soil is COMPOST.  It enriches your soil and allows nutrients to be provided to your plants for a long period of time.  It also provides the ability for the soil to hold moisture which is an outstanding attribute.  Another great benefit: When you use compost on your garden you won't need to use any other natural fertilizers!  

Composting really isn't as complicated as you may think.  I have a simple plastic bin for collecting our kitchen scraps that I keep under our sink.  Before this bin I simply used an old Tupperware container with a lid.  

I like that this container has a lid that simply flips open and the handle is nice for carrying outside. Keep in mind anything will work as long as you have a way to seal the top which keeps the smell in. Also if you want something to sit on your counter you can buy a more attractive looking bin.  There are many options out there now!
One of the keys is to remember what you can compost and what you don't compost.  There is a sticker on our bin which reminds others of these rules. For the most part our small indoor bin contains our fruit and vegetable scraps and sometimes we add tea bags. 
Outside we have a compost leaf & pruning pile.  Its simply chicken wire with 4 posts.  Every fall we fill it up with leaves and trimmings for us to use in the Spring.  
We have 2 Compost tumblers

SELECTING YOUR COMPOST BIN: We decided to go with a tumbler because it was simple for us to use.  We love that everything stays contained in the bin and its off the ground.  It is also sealed and we turn it about once a week to keep things going.  (Tip: Just don't turn it in the winter it will be far too heavy and probably break the bolts....this may have happened to me!)

There are many different options out there.  Here are a few more options that are cost effective:
1. Woven wire bin- Use chicken wire and stakes (like our leaf pile bin).  Simple and cheap.
2. Block or brick bin- stack the blocks on top of each other making 3 sides.  Access from the front & top to turn.
3. Wooden bins- 4 sides and a top that you can make out of wood. Top or 1 side can be removed so you can turn the materials.
4. Turning bin- Usually 2 or 3 bins side by side together.  Add new material to 1st bin and then move to 2nd bin after a couple of weeks and continue adding new to 1st bin. 
HOW TO COMPOST: Simply add your kitchen scraps to the compost bin and cover with leaves.  Next turn your pile.  
Another key step is to make sure that you are adding the correct ratio of materials to your bin.  (I learned this the hard way after adding too much nitrogen and not enough carbon....believe me you don't want maggots in your compost).

For every one part of "green" high nitrogen materials (fruit and veggie scraps) we add 3 parts of "brown" carbon materials (leaves). We also make sure to bury the fruit and veggie scraps to keep the smell down. Basically I just make sure I add triple the amount of leaves to the kitchen scraps!!
To help your pile compost quickly turn it every 2 to 4 weeks and make sure to get a good mix of carbon "brown stuff" and nitrogen "green stuff" (30:1).  Doing this can get your pile to break down in 3 months or less.  

Your compost will smell more like dirt and be crumbly and dark brown in color.  Then you will know its ready to use. You may need to sift it through a screen to get rid of any sticks and larger materials.  At this point its ready to use as a mulch or mix into your topsoil.  
Compost ready to use!
1. Keep the pile moist: Rain should naturally keep your pile moist but from time to time you may need to water it if you have a dry spell.  

2. Add microorganisms: In the fall we add a couple shovels of soil to introduce microorganisms. 

3. Don't turn the pile in the winter: Its too cold for the pile to decompose so its pointless. (This too I learned the hard way after breaking the bolt on one of our bins because the materials inside were frozen!)

4. Make compost tea with your compost:  Take 1-2 cups of compost and put it in nylon hose or cheese cloth and soak in a bucket filled with water for a couple of days.  Then use the brown liquid to water your plants. It will do wonders for your plants by providing nutrients, beneficial microorganisms and increasing plant growth. 

5. Don't compost diseased plants: If in doubt put diseased or insect infested plants in a yard bag for trash pick-up or find another area of the yard for them to decompose.  You can also research to see if the disease will overwinter in your compost bin.  If your plants have Fusarium or Verticillium wilt do not put them in the compost bin.  There is also debate over Powdery Mildew so I just choose not to compost those plants that are infected. 
Ready to clean out bolted lettuce & add the compost to the this bed (closest in picture)


  1. This is great info Danielle. We started composting this spring/summer. We love that it reduces our kitchen waste and I look forward to the benefits in the garden (both veggie and flower). I'm struggling to have enough "browns" to put in - do you think using straw/hay would work? I saw at Lowes I can buy a bale for $5.

  2. Yes straw/hay is a high-carbon material and will add more "browns" to your compost. As far as ratios straw will provide a 40-100:1 (carbon to nitrogen ratio). Other options are: Leaves 30-80:1 Wood Chips or Sawdust 100-500:1 Bark 100-130:1 Paper 150-200:1 or Corn Stalks 60:1. The ideal mix is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.