The fertility of the soil in your home garden is critical to its success. I’ve learned the hard way that trying to save a few dollars isn’t worth it in the long run. Either finding a high quality source of compost locally or making your own is critical. Every spring I make sure that each bed has had 1-2″ added either in the fall or that spring before planting. I also will add more to a bed part way through the growing season if I am planting something new. An example of this would be after harvesting garlic in mid-July, I will often add more and then plant a succession of beets.
Choosing to make your own compost at home can be convenient and economical. I’ve found this has been a great way to ensure that I always have some available. It is also an effective way to manage the bedding from my chicken coop.
When adding to your compost you want to be sure you maintain a balance of what is referred to as Greens and Browns. Generally, you are looking for 3 to 4 parts brown to 1 part green. It doesn’t need to be exact, but you’ll be able to tell if the ratio is off, because it may start to stink or it won’t heat up enough to start breaking down.
- Greens – are materials that are rich in nitrogen or protein. These materials are what help the compost pile to heat up.
- Examples: Vegetable and food scraps, eggshells, animal manure, coffee grounds, and grass clippings.
- Browns – are carbon or carbohydrate-rich materials. The browns are a source of food for the soil-dwelling organisms that will work with the microbes to break down the contents of your compost pile.
- Examples: leaves, wood shavings, small twigs and branches, small pieces of paper or cardboard
There are some things that you should avoid adding to your compost.
- Meat scraps and bones – by adding these to your compost you can attract animals and pests.
- Weeds – you want to be careful with what weeds you are adding to your compost. If a weed spreads by its root structure or is currently in seed, you don’t want to add these.
3 Bin System
Due to the volume of materials, I have to compost and the space I have, I have created what is commonly referred to as a 3 bin compost system.
- Bin 1 – This is where new materials are added to the compost. Trying to follow the ratio of greens and browns so that the compost starts to break down. It can be helpful to mix this bin occasionally to ensure that you don’t get pockets of green or brown.
- Bin 2 – This is the stage where the compost really starts to break down it will heat up and the organisms will start to work through the compost.
- Bin 3 – This is the final stage of the compost and it looks more like rich garden soil.
Based on the volume of materials we produce around our home and the gardening year, I find that I turn my compost twice a year. In the spring once I have removed most of the material from the third bin and applied it to my garden, I will move the remaining two bins over one. The same thing often happens in the fall, when I’m amending garden beds for things such as garlic. Before applying the compost to my garden, I will sift it through some hardware cloth to remove any of the big pieces.
Building your Compost Bins
There are many ways to achieve a three-bin compost system. When I first started composting, I used skids or pallets with some chicken wire to form the three bins I needed. Although this wasn’t pretty it was very functional and economical.
After several years the pallets were starting to decompose with the compost and needed to be replaced. I was able to repurpose some cedar from elsewhere around the house to re-build my compost bins. If you are able to find plastic pallets, they would be a longer-term solution.
Regardless of if you are making compost or purchasing it from a local source, I would recommend testing your soil. This gives you an indication early on if you need to make an adjustment rather than waiting until later in the season to see the effects on your plants. I have found the at-home soil test kits to be good enough that I can tell if my soil is deficient in some areas. Here is the kit that I’ve used to test my home garden soil.
I hope you found this helpful. Happy Gardening!