"Fix-it and Forget-it" Backyard Compost - the easiest way to create compost in your own backyard
Posted by: scentandviolet March 24th, 2017
Gardening can be a challenge for some. Especially in South Texas, where the summers are so hot that grasses, shrubs, and trees can all become as yellow as our famous roses; it's no wonder that you may feel your "green thumb" is more of a crispy brown one. Call it the Midas touch.
In any case, so many of us are willing to revive the tradition of vegetable, herb, and flower gardening in our backyards. It's a way to save the planet, improve your health, help revive dwindling bee populations, and save money. We're also incredibly lucky to live Texas, where the growing season isn't limited to the spring and summer months. Isn't gardening awesome? If you still don't believe it, here's a secret that will make your endeavor a lot easier: a garden's not a garden without compost!
Composting is nature's way of taking waste and putting it to use. It's simple in principle, although there are a few ways to go about it. The gist of composting is decomposition. Organic materials are added to soil, microorganisms feed on said organic materials and create their waste from your waste. What you throw into the compost pile rots with the help of trillions of bacteria.
Sounds gross, right? In reality, it's the healthiest thing you can do for your plants and your pocketbook. More food for the compost pile equals less garbage, more plentiful crops, and more money for your wallet. In order to make your gardening effort worthwhile, your crops need nutrients! Compost is chock-full of them. Unlike the apple core thrown in there a week or two ago, the waste generated from its microbial breakdown adds nutrients and other helpful components to the soil. Think calcium, nitrate, nitrogen, and phosphorus to start. (FYI, soil is made up of dozens upon dozens of nutrients and minerals). Compost is also great at amending the aeration, consistency, and drainability of any soil. It also keeps things nice and organic.
How does one start? There are many ways to start your compost heap, most of which involve adding organic materials to a bin or a pile. Some methods involve cultivating a bin full of worms and feeding them kitchen scraps. Another method, known as hot composting, requires intense care as your waste turns to "black gold" in a matter of weeks. It is possible to keep a hot compost pile going in any season due to the heat produced by decomposing organisms, however it is best suited for warmer months. The easiest and most common method we'll cover is cold (or slow) composting.
Cold composting is the "fix-it-and-forget-it" of composts. It has both its advantages and disadvantages; one being that it doesn't eliminate plant diseases and fungi. This can be counteracted by being careful about what goes in to your pile in the first pace. (The remains of diseased plants are a definite "no").
A few shovelfuls of soil are added to a bin or heap to start, along with organic "brown" and "green" materials. These materials are crucial to any quality compost and don't have as much to do with color as they do with carbon to nitrogen ratios (C:N). All living things consist of carbon and lesser amounts of nitrogen. According to Planet Natural, in order for your compost pile to be its very best, the C:N ratio should be kept in a "sweet spot" of around 25-30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen (25:1 or 30:1). Your ratio of each is controlled by what materials you add to your pile and how much.
"Brown" materials are generally dry and carbon rich. They consist of things like dry twigs, dead leaves, pine needles, wood chips, and paper. "Green" materials are nitrogen-rich and supercharge decomposition. They consist of things like grass clippings, food scraps, fruit peels, and manure. Don't forget the coffee grinds! If you don't already have a ton, most major chains now give away their spent grinds to gardeners.
If you feel that you can't get these ratios right, don't sweat it. You won't have to be nearly as precise with this ratio as you would if you were hot composting. According to Oregon State University, the C:N ratio of a cold compost pile only affects the speed of composting. Too much "brown" (carbon) material will simply cause it to decompose at a slower rate. Devote all of your kitchen scraps to the pile and it will undoubtedly speed up. Cold composting will take a few months regardless, enriching your soil for next season, if only you devote the necessary materials to the microbial buffet.
This is where you can get creative. Just avoid things like chemicals, meat, inorganic materials (plastic, metal), and food that has been heavily salted. If you find an earthworm slinking around, relocate him to the pile. Adding worms, especially red wrigglers, is a great idea, as their waste is extremely rich in nitrogen. They also aid friendly bacteria in breaking down materials more quickly and can even eliminate unpleasant smells.
Finally, you will want to turn (aerate) your compost every so often. This involves taking a shovel, rake, or stick of some kind to mix up the dirt and encourage the breakdown of your materials into the perfect "black gold." This can be done every other day to once or twice a week. How often you turn your pile lends itself to the length of time it takes your pile to make compost. Why? Because turning it brings the material up from the bottom, which gravity and bacteria have caused to break down first. Bringing that material to the top spreads the already-composted material throughout your pile and moves the lesser material to the bottom, where it is more easily broken down. For someone who does not like to rake or shovel too hard, I like tumbler composter. It is easy to turn, and our friends at Wabash Feed & Garden can get it for you.
If you hardly have the time to turn your pile, it's okay to forget. Missing one or two (or three) turns isn't going to render it a lost cause. In fact, some cold composters achieve great results without turning their heap at all.
The last thing you'll need for your easy-peasy backyard compost pile is time. Yes, cold composting can take six months or longer; but it's almost effortless. Add your garbage, dispose of those dreaded lawn clippings, and give it a nice turn from time to time (if you want to). Let some time pass and you'll see that slow and steady is the easiest way to go.
Question is: Can you compost weeds? What?!! The sheer thought scares the living daylight out of most gardeners - bringing back to the soil the very thing we wanted to eliminate in the first place? No, no, no! Well, allow us to introduce Kevin from Epic Gardening. He wrote a very detailed (and pretty amazing) article on weed composting. We strongly recommend reading it, and perhaps taking a leap of fate and start composting those pesky weeds. When life give you lemons... I mean, when garden gives you weeds - make compost out of it.
Let's make Houston green! What's your favorite composting method, and what do you love to grow? Let us know!
We would like to extend our thanks to Keely for pouring time and heart into researching and writing the composting article for us, and
Scent & Violet, flowers and gifts is a full service florist in Houston, TX offering flower, plant and gift delivery in Houston, Katy, Richmond, Fulshear, Sugar Land and Bellaire. We aim to create fuss-free, everyday shopping source for flowers, plants, and gifts. It is our belief that we can create better relationships through gifting, better environments through plants, and better state of mind through flowers.