Feed Your Soil, Feed Your Soul: How to Ace Your First Compost Bin

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, apple cores to….. garden fertilizer? The circle of life, perpetuating in your very own backyard. Composting is one of the best ways to boost the health of your garden ecosystem, and it happens to be the most ecological way to dispose of your food. No matter how much space you have, it is easy to set up a seamless connection between your kitchen cutting board and garden with our sage advice!          

What is compost?

Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Composting enriches the soil in our gardens, making a strong and healthy environment for all the beautiful flowers to flourish. When we incorporate composting into our garden practices, it reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

How do you do it?

A compost is an accumulation of organic material. Some composters like to have it in their backyard, while others opt for a smaller, indoor setup. Using a variety of materials, your compost can look and function exactly how you want it to. After selecting the ideal location for your lifestyle, you can either have a free pile for your compost, or contain it. Our best bin recommendations: a large storage tote, a cinderblock setup, some pallets, or a store bought commercial compost bin. Though it can seem easier, try to avoid buying new containers. Follow this link to learn how to make your own compost bin out of these common household items. If you look hard enough in your cupboards, we guarantee you’ll find what you need without needing to spend money on materials!

As your compost accumulates, it will slowly break down and blend unwanted veggie castaways and yard debris, and begin converting them to pure fuel for your plants! Don’t forget to incorporate your kitchen clippings into the mix: banana peels, bruised produce, and anything else that you don’t plan on eating can be put into a small container in your kitchen, and then emptied out every 1-3 days. Your compost should have equal parts “brown” and “green” elements. The browns add carbon, while the greens add nitrogen.

Examples of Materials Considered “BrownsExamples of Materials Considered “Greens
Dry leavesFresh leaves
Pine needles, pine conesVeggie and fruit scraps
Twigs, chipped tree branches/barkCoffee grounds, coffee filters
Sawdust (from non-chemically treated wood)Tea bags and loose tea
Ashes from woodGrass clippings (if they’re not sprayed with chemicals)
Straw or hayWeeds (without seeds)
Corn cobsFlowers
Paper (newspaper, brown paper bags, paper plates,
napkins, brown paper bags, no glossy-type paper)
Seaweed, kelp
Corrugated cardboard – no waxy or glossy paper coatingsBarnyard/livestock manure (no pet waste)
Dryer lint – from natural fibersStale/moldy bread
Pure cotton or wool fabricCrushed egg shells
Remember: Never put in any oils, meats, dairy, or chemicals.

Let’s get composting! Take a look at the diagram below to help visualize what the inside of your compost bin should look like. Alternate layers of brown and green materials, and make sure to have one central layer of twigs for the worms to go cool off. Yes, we said worms! These tiny creatures help to speed the process of breaking down the compostable materials into healthy soil by eating the food scraps or dried leaves, leaving behind their castings. Eventually, worms will just appear in an outdoor bin, but we like to get a few handfuls from a friend’s active compost pile, or just start yours off with an order of red wigglers. This kind of worm is a highly esteemed composting superstar; you can buy them from Garden Outside the Box and Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. For the central layer, twigs can be sourced from cedar trees and arborvitae (fir, spruce, pine, etc.), or any small sticks you find around the yard.

hands cupped together holding soil/compost and earthworms

Our worm friends benefit from crushed eggshells in their home. Add about a half cup of crushed eggshells into your compost over the course of a month. Once those white spots disappear, you know it’s time to add more. Eggshells add calcium, regulate the pH of the soil, help worms digest food, and might even help them reproduce. Don’t put large pieces of shell in though; worms can’t bite them, and they take a while to break down.

Image Credit: Markus Spiske

One more aspect to consider is the temperature of your compost. The method described above is called “cold composting,” meaning that you can just add your scraps and wait 1-2 weeks for your compost to be ready. Or, you can take “hot composting” for a spin: raise the temperature and break that food down faster, thus destroying harmful pathogens and weed seeds. This requires a bit of extra elbow grease through monitoring moisture levels, aerating your pile (turning it regularly) and being extra mindful about green to brown ratios. Read all about it here.

Let us know how your composting ventures go!

Until next thyme,
My Thyme Gardens

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