Composting 101

Compost Pile
With a little effort, you can create an attractive enclosure for your compost piles.

Composting is nature’s recycling process. It converts your old scraps and “natural trash” into a nutrient-rich treat for your garden. In addition to providing a nutritious boost to your soil, compost helps your plants fight disease. There are many ways you can add to your compost pile, and one is by using the spent plants you pull from your garden and flowerbeds.

Of course, it’s entirely up to you. You can just throw away your dead plants or you can help you again by being composted.

Compost bin

Store-bought compost bins are great for their ease of use, but they have limited space.

Get Your Compost Ingredients

To make compost, a gardener needs a good supply of “green stuff” as well as “brown stuff.”

What is the “green stuff” you need? This is plant matter that’s high in nitrogen. It serves as the heating agent in your compost. Essentially, it gets the compost mixture cooking. Examples of “green stuff” include grass clippings, eggshells, plant trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps and animal manures (but not from dogs or cats).

And the “brown stuff”? That’s the material in compost that is high in carbon. It helps the compost break down.  Examples of “brown stuff” include fall leaves, pine needles, saw dust, dryer lint, corrugated cardboard and corn stalks.

Look for an expansive list on composting materials in our “Why Compost?” blog post.

Compost Pile or Compost Bin?

Whether you choose to start a compost pile or purchase a compost bin is a largely a personal choice.

Bins can be a bit expensive, but they keep your compost in a small area and tend to convert compost quicker. On the down side, there’s only so much space in a compost bin, so they’re not as good for people with big gardens.

A compost pile requires no additional purchases, and allows you to heap on as much material as you can. On the down side, a compost pile can tend to spread out. It also can attract unwanted critters interested in your table scraps. Just remember that worms in your compost pile are a sign you’re doing things right!

Some people opt to go half-way between the compact rotating bin and a simple pile. They toss all their compost into a simple wire or wood framework they’ve built in a corner of their lot. These bins keep the piles contained and are easy to aerate, but also tend to be a bit bigger than a store-bought bin.

Ringer Compost Plus

Start Your Compost Pile

Your compost pile is easy to get started. First, toss all your compost-ready material in your designated compost pile location or load the materials in your compost container.

Aim to keep your compost pile about 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet. Any larger than that and it will be too difficult to manage later on.

Next, apply a compost starter product. We recommend the Ringer® Compost Plus Organic Compost Starter, which will do wonders to jump-start your composting process. Ringer® supplies your compost pile with a host of nutrient resources, which helps the process run more quickly and efficiently.

Compost Pile Care

After the starter materials, a compost pile and compost bin need three things: Oxygen, water and temperature.

Oxygen is needed to help the micro-organisms in your compost pile to do their thing. For most compost bins, oxygenating is easy, once a week, just crank it a few times to aerate. Compost piles (and some less-expensive store-bought bins) require a bit more work. Use a pitch fork or spade to thoroughly mix you pile by turning the material again and again. Do this every week.

Water is very important, but requires a delicate touch. Aim to have your compost “wet as a damp sponge” at all times.  Too much water creates a slime. Too little water means you’ll kill off the micro-organisms you’re relying on to make good compost. Placing a tarp over your compost pile can help trap moisture.

compost sieve

Though a bit labor intensive, filtering your “ready” compost through a sieve or grate allows you to harvest the best material for planting.

Temperature is an indicator of the “health” of your compost pile. Buy a composting thermometer (usually part of store-bought bins) to monitor the temperature of your compost pile. The ideal temperature should be between 130 and 150 degrees. Piles that measure less than that need to be pulled together closer and probably need more nitrogen.

Harvesting Your Compost

Your compost is ready to use in planting when the pile has shrunk to about half of its original size. Another indicator is that you should no longer be able to identify most of the material you added to the pile when you started it. The compost itself should be a dark brown and crumbly.

To get the best soil, strain your compost through a simple sieve, which will filter out larger debris that still hasn’t completely broken down.

How long does composting take? It varies greatly. A pile started in the fall may not be ready until the following summer. Compost made in a bin may only take a month or two to mature.  A pile started in the spring may be ready by the late summer.

If you maintain multiple compost piles, then you’ll be ready for whatever planting you need to do!

Your Composting Efforts

Now that you’ve made your own compost pile, you will be ready when it is time to plant and begin your garden you can add the composted materials to your soil for a healthier garden and harvest. You will find your plants are more resilient and hearty with the use of compost, too!

Tell us all about your composting efforts when you visit us on Facebook. If you have questions, post them as comments below.

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