What is Composting?
Composting is a natural process where organic materials decompose and are recycled into a dark, crumbly, earthy smelling soil conditioner known as "compost". Compost improves soil structure and moisture retention, and contributes to healthy plant growth by providing plant nutrients.
Why Should I Compost?
- Composting can save money!
- Reduces fertilizer and water use
- Avoids garbage collection and landfill fees
- Reduces the need for soil and plant amendments
- Composting helps the environment
- Reduces the volume of garbage going to landfills, transfer stations and incinerators
- Composting benefits your soil and plants
- Improves soil structure and texture
- Increases aeration and water holding
- Promotes soil fertility
- Stimulates healthy root development
- Aids in erosion control
- Reduces chemical inputs
- Composting is easy
- Save time bagging grass and leaves
- Quick and fun way to do part for the environment
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- Vegetable food scraps
- Grass clippings
- Sawdust and wood ash
- Chopped twigs and branches
- Coffee grounds w/filters
- Meat scraps
- Diseased or insect infested plants
- Weeds with seeds
- Dog and cat feces
- Food with grease or soap residues
Slow Harvest: Ready in 12–18 Months
Made by adding layers of available yard waste over several months.
- Set compost bin where is will get rain.
- Put yard waste in bin as it is generated in your yard. The material at the bottom and in the center will compost first.
Fast Harvest: Ready in 5–15 Weeks
Made by mixing equal weights of green and brown materials at once.
- Add green materials such as grass clippings or vegetable scraps mixed with brown materials such as leaves (no woody-type materials should be included).
- Add water to pile until it's as wet as a wrung out sponge.
- Turn pile with a pitch fork or compost aerator tool twice a week for faster compost production (less often in wintertime).
Types of Compost Bins
Compost can be made in open piles. However, to help keep a pile neat and maintain conditions needed for rapid decomposition, consider simple homemade or store bought bins. See back page for demonstration sites in New Jersey.
- Made from wood pallets
- Made from snow fences
Store-Bought Compost Bins:
- Store Bought:
- Compost Tumbler
- Durable Plastic Bin
Here is how to solve problems should they occur:
Keys to Good Compost
Water: The microorganisms in the compost pile need water to live. Water pile only as needed, to maintain compost as moist as a wrung out sponge. Don't let your pile dry out completely.
Nutrients: The microorganisms in the pile need carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein in order to survive. A good balance can be achieved by mixing two parts of nitrogen rich green materials such as grass clippings, with one part of carbon rich brown materials such as leaves. However, carbon-rich leaves by themselves will compost.
Aeration: To speed up decomposition, turn the pile frequently using a pitch fork. This provides the microorganisms with enough oxygen to thrive so they can heat up the compost. Placing large branches at the bottom of the pile will also help add air to the pile. Minimal turning would be once per month and less frequently during the year.
Surface area: The more surface area the microorganisms have to work on, the faster materials will decompose. Consider chopping materials, particularly brush or branches which have a diameter of ¼ inch or more. Pile size is also important. For quicker decomposition, pile should be at least 3 feet x 3 feet to hold the heat of microbial activity, but not so large (larger than 5 feet x 5 feet) that air can't reach microbes at the center of the pile.
Use for Compost
Mulch: Spread compost around flower and vegetable plantings, trees, shrubs, and on exposed slopes. This will smother weeds, keep plant roots moist, and prevent soil erosion.
Soil Conditioner: Mix 1–3 inches of compost into vegetable and flower beds before planting. This returns organic matter to the soil in a usable form.
Potting Mix: Make your own mix by using equal parts of compost and sand or soil. Make sure compost is fully decomposed and screened.
Some books to help you along…
- Backyard Composting, Harmonious Technologies, P.O. Box 1865-100 Ojai, CA 93024
- How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons, Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Rd. Willits, CA 09590
- Let it Rot, Stu Campbell, Storey Communications, Inc., Schoolhouse Rd., RD #1, Box 105, Pownal, VT 05261
- The Rodale Guide to Composting, R.A. Simpson, Rodale Press, 33 E. Miner St., Emmaus, PA 18098
- Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof, Flower Press, 10322 Shaver Rd., Kalamazoo, MI 49002
Frequently Asked Questions
Will my order fit in my car?
We've found that in reasonably sized vehicles, yes it will! Make sure to have an open back seat and trunk, and if you can, having your back seats down to create an large trunk-like space will guarantee everything will fit! Here's a picture of an Earth Machine in the back of a standard sedan to prove that!
Will it attract rodents?
Keeping in mind some basic composting tenets (which the Rottwheeler spells out quite nicely), especially not putting in dairy or meat products into the compost bin, the main thing the rodents in your area may be looking for in the compost bin would be shelter. Making sure to not let food scraps of any kind sit on top of the pile with a nice turn and sometimes adding some water to the pile will go a long ways in keeping rodents out. We also sell a rodent screen to keep them out more permanently, pictured below fitted onto the Earth Machine (ours are custom designed to fit each other).
Do I need to turn the pile?
Yes, turning and aeration together is key to any good compost. This is a crucial step to helping the breakdown process occur faster, and on top of that as outlined below, is also a major part of keeping rodents out of the pile.
How will i know it's ready?
How do I start? Day 1 Set-Up
How long will it take before I see finished compost?
Assuming proper aeration, and proper basic composting techniques as outlined in the Rottwheeler are followed, you can expect usable compost within 2-3 months usually. It doesn't hurt to let it sit longer than that to allow the compost to "settle".
Year Round Compost Tips
Will it smell?
An earthy scent is to be expected, but a well-built compost shouldn't produce overtly unpleasant scents. If it does, the issue is either too much "green" material (resulting in an ammonia-like smell) or too little air (resulting in a rotten-egg smell). Try aerating the pile (our Wingdigger would come in handy for this!). If the smell persists, turn and rebuild the pile with more "brown" material.
Why Use a Rain Barrel?
There are several environmental benefits associated with rain barrels. Rain barrels reduce storm water runoff, water that does not soak into the ground and can transport many pollutants to our local waterways as well as cause erosion. By collecting rainwater for watering lawns, gardens, and potted plants and for washing off patio furniture and tools, rain barrels conserve water. From a gardening perspective, the natural nutrients in rain water make it far better than city tap water, which contains chlorine and fluoride. With a rain barrel, gardeners can minimize or eliminate their use of chemical fertilizers.