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Composting In Three Easy Steps

Improve your soil the free, easy, and best way—with compost!

If you can pile stuff up, you can compost.

Sure, some compost connoisseurs carefully layer materials, turn compost heaps, wet them down, and even take their internal temperature with a special thermometer because a perfectly-made pile gets steamy hot in its interior—a method called, appropriately, hot compost method.

compost binBut there's a super-simple way to create compost. It's called the cold compost method. It's called that because you're not getting so scientific that it's heating up in its core and breaking down rapidly. You just pile it up and it, well, rots—nice and slow and easy.

With cold compost, as long as you keep the pieces of materials small, you should have compost to use in your garden in a year or two. Compare that to hot compost, which gives you compost in just weeks.

Here's how to cold compost in three easy steps:

1) Pile up grass clippings, autumn leaves, weeds, and other material.
The pile shouldn't be any more than 3-4 feet high and wide or it's too big to handle. (See list below of the best things to use and the things you shouldn't add.)

If you want to be fancy or tidy, you can pile the stuff into a container of some sort. You can use purchased compost bins, build a bin from wood, make one with chicken wire held in place with stakes, or just stack up concrete blocks to hold the pile in place and prevent materials in it from blowing.

2) Let it sit.
Keep adding material to it as needed. It's a handy place to dump grass clippings, autumn leaves, weeds (preferably those that haven't gone to seed), and other garden plant debris.

Just avoid woody branches. They take forever to break down, unless you cut them into small pieces just a few inches long.

3) Harvest your compost!
After a year or so, you'll notice the stuff on the bottom of the pile is black and crumbly and looks like good black dirt. That's compost!

Pull the stuff off the top that hasn't broken down yet. Underneath, you'll find the compost, though there will probably be chunks that haven't broken down yet. Take your spade and scoop out the compost, toss it into a wheelbarrow or bucket, and pull out any problematic big chunks by hand.

Spread the compost on the surface of your soil--it will work in naturally over time or you can rake it in, also. It's also great to spade or till into a new bed or add to the bottom of all your planting holes.

Very Helpful Hint
It helps to have at least two or three compost heaps. Most gardens have more yard waste than one bin can handle. (I have six--and I still have a landscaper haul away yard debris a couple of times a year!) Start out with two or three and see how that handles your debris.

It also helps to have at least a second pile to pull unbroken-down stuff into when you're tearing apart a pile to harvest the compost at the bottom.

What To Add— And Not Add—
To Your Compost Heap

Only certain things should go into a compost heap.

Good Things to Add:
Grass clippings
Autumn leaves
Small branches, cut up into pieces a few inches long
Weeds (preferably without seeds)
Egg shells
Coffee grinds
Plant-based kitchen scraps, such as banana peels
Manure of plant-eating animals, such as chickens and cows
Shredded paper
Wood ash, in small amounts

Don’t Add:
Kitty litter
Dog droppings
Droppings of any meat-eating animal (it can spread disease)
Large sticks and branches
Diseased plant parts (it also spreads disease)


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