Compost is the organic vegetable gardener’s best friend. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a successful growing season without a healthy dose of this amazing, nutrient-rich “black gold” working its magic in your garden beds.
The best part is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to buy quality compost for your garden. You can make your own premium blend right in your own backyard with minimal to no investment. All you need is a little space, some basic raw materials, and a bit of effort to make it happen.
Here are 3 Basic Composting Tips for Your Organic Vegetable Garden:
Pick the Right Location
Although the recommended “ideal” dimensions for a compost heap ranges from 3 to 5 feet in length, width, and height, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. These dimensions are recommended because compost piles this size can generate enough internal heat to break down the organic matter inside quickly. At the same time, these dimensions are small enough that home gardeners can manually turn and keep them moist without too much trouble.
These conditions matter because heat, oxygen, and moisture all factor into how quickly the organic material in your pile breaks down. So, if you have space for a compost pile this size, that’s great! However, you don’t have to have this much space available to make your own compost. It just might take a little more time to do so.
You can either purchase a small composter for the task, or you can work organic kitchen scraps, shredded fall leaves, grass clippings, and other suitable materials straight into your garden beds for an added pop of nutrients as they break down naturally.
If this seems counterintuitive, consider this:
There are no compost piles in nature. They aren’t necessary because nature is extremely efficient when it comes to breaking down and reusing what is no longer viable on its own.
One caveat, however, is that you will need to carefully consider which materials you add directly to your beds if you take this approach. For example, some kitchen scraps should be chopped into small pieces first to help them break down more quickly. In addition, fresh manure should be aged properly before adding it to your beds or it can burn your plants. Depending on the type of manure and other environmental conditions, this process can take anywhere from several weeks to months to complete.
Add the Right Materials (and in the Right Quantities)
Compost is created when organic material is broken down by microbes and other organisms in the presence of heat, moisture, and oxygen. There are two main categories of raw materials used to make compost: Brown (or carbon-rich) materials, such as fall leaves and wood chips, and green materials, which include grass clippings, coffee grounds, and other nitrogen-rich items.
It seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to what makes the “perfect” organic compost. Online, you’ll see that the “ideal” ratio of carbon to nitrogen materials in compost piles range somewhere between 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
This is a great guideline, but how can the average home gardener know how much nitrogen is present in grass clippings throughout the growing season, or how much carbon is available in a mixed pile of fallen oak, maple, and birch leaves? The reality is sometimes you just need to dive in and take an educated guess. Do some experimenting to see what works for you, while keeping the recommended ratios in mind. Keep track of your results and make adjustments as you go along until you find the right balance.
Remember, gardening is supposed to be fun, not another source of stress. So have some fun with this process!
Avoid Adding the Wrong Materials
In addition to knowing what materials you should use, you’ll also want to avoid composting others. For example, dog and cat feces, sawdust from wood pallets or pressure treated lumber, glossy printed paper, non-organic kitchen scraps, grass clippings from areas that have been chemically treated, and meat and other animal products should be avoided. Some of these items will attract unwanted pests to your garden, while others will introduce toxic and harmful substances you’ll want keep far away from the food you grow.