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Composting the easy way

September 27, 2012

Making your own compost is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Barring the purchase of your composter, the resulting fertilizer and soil amendment is 100 percent free. Composting is a natural biological process that converts organic material into humus-like matter that gardeners refer to as black gold.

You can make your own backyard compost container from welded wire mesh, concrete blocks or wooden shipping pallets - anything in which you can form a pile of compost material that's roughly 3-5 feet across and no higher than 5 feet.

If you prefer to buy a bin, consider one with features that make turning the contents easier, thus speeding up the decomposing process. 

Tools and Materials

  • Compost bins (indoor and outdoor)
  • Pitchfork
  • Chopper or grinder to break down larger items, such as branches
  • Hose or watering jug

Step 1. Mix it. Place the bin near your garden and back door. A small indoor bin is handy to use along with the larger one outdoors. Throw scraps into the indoor bin and, as it fills up, empty it periodically into the outdoor one. Compostable items such as kitchen scraps, tea bags, coffee grinds and grass clippings can be added to the bin; so can brown materials such as dried leaves, sawdust, straw, wood ash and the woody stalks of plants.

Step 2. Layer it. Layer materials high in carbon, including lawn clippings, chopped leaves, green plants and agricultural crop residues with materials high in nitrogen, such as manure, alfalfa meal, hay, paper products, sewage sludge and wood. Just about any organic material can be added to the bin, including food scraps, eggshells, tea leaves and coffee grounds. Never add chemically treated wood, diseased plants, human or pet waste, meat, bones, fatty foods or weeds. Add water regularly during the compost-building process to help get rid of air pockets.

Step 3. Turn it. You can begin to make compost in as little as a few weeks if you speed up the process by turning the pile with a pitchfork once a week and adding fresh manure. Mixing it allows oxygen into the center of the pile, encouraging the growth of bacteria and fungi, which break down organic material into simpler substances. Regularly turned organic matter will become finished compost in 4-8 months.

Step 4. Break it down. Compost is ready to be used when it is dark and crumbly and has an earthy smell. You can sift it to separate material that hasn't finished composting, but those pieces will continue to decompose in your garden. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will break down.

Step 5: Spread it. Once it's ready, work the compost into the soil to give it an organic boost before planting. Spread it on the soil's surface as mulch on flower beds and around the base of landscape plants. Compost may also be used as a top dressing for lawns or as an ingredient in potting mixes.

Need some expert assistance? Visit your local Home Depot store to ask associates about products or how-to instructions. Can't make the trip, but need answers now? The Home Depot expert associates are also available to answer your questions online. Visit them here.