Compost 101

Want me to let you in on a little secret? 

It's a dirty, dirty secret. 

The secret is.....dirt.

The ONLY way to have a successful garden is to have good soil. You can fertilize, pamper, and even sing your plants to sleep each night, but if you don't have good soil, nothing will ever grow. We learned this the hard way.

We have been raised around farmers and gardeners our whole life. Our Popo Charanza had a huge vegetable garden. Our dad was a cotton and maize farmer. They made it look so easy. 

When we started our first garden, we naively thought we could just put some plants in the ground, water them, and then they would grow and feed our family an infinite amount of vegetables. We were wrong. It was highly unsuccessful. 

We might as well have planted coins and waited for a money tree to grow.

Although the plants somewhat stayed alive, they definitely didn't grow and produce vegetables.

When you create a garden with poor soil, many issues can arise. The soil can be too compacted for roots to break through and expand causing stunted growth, the soil can dry out too quickly causing insufficient watering at the root level, if the soil does not drain well, oxygen can't travel to the roots properly, plants can yellow and wither from lack of nutrients; the list goes on and on. 

 Good soil is like an immune system for plants. When the soil is healthy, the plants can grow strong and fight off bugs and diseases. If the soil is poor, the plants have to put all their energy into just trying to survive, and can't grow and protect themselves. 

So how do you fix a problem that you may not even know you had?

In a nutshell....compost.

Good compost is like gold for a garden. It is the number one way to get your garden to be successful, and all you need is stuff that usually ends up in the trash can. At its core, composting is nature's way of recycling. It's the process of breaking down organic materials like food scraps, yard waste, and even paper into a nutrient-rich soil amendment known as compost. This black gold is chock-full of essential nutrients and beneficial microorganisms that work wonders for your plants' health and vitality.

So, are you ready to talk dirty??

Let's start with what goes into good compost?

Browns, Greens, Water and Air

What do I mean by that?

Browns- sticks, leaves, carboard boxes, sawdust, shredded newspaper, junk mail (lord knows we get plenty of that)...These are the things that supply the carbon.

Greens- grass clippings (be careful not to use weeds or seeded out grass or you will accidentally plant a weed garden), fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, animal manure, coffee grounds, tea bags...These are the things that supply the nitrogen

Water- (this one is self explanatory) Just like any living organism, your compost pile needs water to thrive. Aim for a damp, but not soggy, consistency – like a wrung-out sponge.

Air- Oxygen is crucial for the decomposition process. Be sure to turn your compost pile regularly to aerate it and keep those microbes happy.

What should NOT go into compost??

-Cooked foods, dairy, pet waste (most pets do not eat a 100% natural diet), oil/grease, painted wood, diseased plants, meat and bones (unless you want to attract every coyote within a 10 mile radius.)

 How to Start a Compost Pile

Start by gathering all your "ingredients".

We originally used this bucket for all of the food scraps we had so that we wouldn't have to constantly walk them out to the compost pile. You just can't forget to actually go dump it (like I may or may not have done a time or two).

Compost Scrap Bucket >>>>>>>

You want to tear up any large pieces. Those amazon boxes and credit card pre- approval letters will break down a whole lot faster if they are in small pieces. Plus it's a very good way to get out any pent up aggression. 

Next, you will make a trash lasagna. Layer your browns and greens until you have used them all up. 

Then give it a good watering, and that's it! Time to sit back and let the microbes do their thing.

As the materials break down, your compost pile will heat up – sometimes reaching temperatures of over 140°F! This heat is a sign that your compost is cooking away, breaking down those organic materials into rich, nutrient-dense humus.

How to care for your compost pile

You will need to water and aerate your compost about once a week to help the process along. 

 Once your pile starts to grow, it may become difficult to turn it. Unless you want to invest in a brand spankin new tractor, you may want to try out starting with one of these bad boys. 

Compost Barrel Link >>>>>

Compost Barrels take the hard work out of composting by making it easy to rotate and aerate. You simply turn the handle to toss it all around. It is also vented to allow pressure to escape, but not enough to allow animals in. 

Wait, did you say pressure?? 

As the materials break down, they release gases and heat that can build up. If your barrel does not have holes for ventilation, it can explode. 

If you have ever seen a landscaping company on the news that has piles of mulch catch fire, this is exactly what happened. The heat that builds up in the piles can become so great that they can spontaneously combust. No lie. It happens all the time. 

Can you image explaining THAT to the insurance company? Sorry insurance adjuster, I forgot to turn my compost and it caught on fire. 

If your pile starts to smell bad, it might be too wet or lacking oxygen. Give it a good turn and add some dry browns to balance things out. And if pests come knocking, try covering your compost with a layer of browns or burying your food scraps deeper in the pile to deter them.

If you really want to give your compost a head boost, add in some earthworms. They eat all of the "trash" you throw in, and poop out garden gold. If you don't want to spend hours digging up your own worms, you can actually buy a bag of them! (I swear, Amazon has everything)



Harvesting Your Black Gold: Putting Compost to Use

Finally, the moment of truth has arrived. After weeks (or months) of patiently tending to your compost pile, it's finally time to reap the rewards. Your once-humble kitchen scraps have been transformed into a dark, crumbly substance that smells like earthy heaven – that's your compost, folks!

Spread it over your garden beds, mix it into potting soil, or use it as mulch to give your plants a nutrient boost like no other. Trust me, your garden will thank you for it.

Happy composting friends!


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