What is Composting?
Composting is the natural process in which organic material, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, break down and turn into a high quality soil conditioner called humus.
Naturally occurring micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) and invertebrates (insects and earthworms) break down, or decompose, fruit and vegetable scraps, fallen leaves and all other organic matter. Nutrients stored in that material converts into a form that is beneficial for vegetation. This transformation completes the natural cycle of life.
Why Backyard Compost?
Backyard composting can accelerate the decomposition process by providing the ideal environment for necessary micro-organisms to flourish.
Studies show that approximately 25-30% of the residential waste currently going to the landfill could be diverted through backyard composting. Backyard composting can save valuable landfill space while providing homeowners with a great and cost effective soil conditioner called humus.
In addition to saving landfill space, compost is beneficial in gardens and on lawns:
- The need for fertilizer is reduced because compost contains valuable micro-nutrients that enriches vegetation
- Compost conditions the soil, providing better drainage for compacted and clay soils, or better water retention for sandy and porous soils
- Compost on the lawn and in the garden helps to control soil erosion
- Compost used in plant beds helps to control the growth of weeds
With just a little attention, your backyard composter will deliver these benefits to your garden and lawn with little or no financial cost to you.
How Do I Start Backyard Composting?
1. Choose a spot in your yard for your composter.
Things to consider:
- Location: It is important to choose a location that is convenient to you and your family, perhaps close to, or in, a garden or near the back deck. You can still use your composter in the winter, so make it as easy as possible to access. A spot in a partially sunny location will help to keep the temperature in your composter high, which helps with decomposition.
- Drainage: Your composter will need a spot that is flat and has relatively good drainage and air flow. Avoid putting your composter on a cement patio or on gravel. Add some small sticks or woodchips to the bottom of the composter to assist with drainage.
2. Get the composter started.
Now you?ve set up your composter, it?s time to start filling it.
- Place small sticks, twigs or woodchips at the bottom of your composter. This will aid in ventilation and drainage.
- Layer about 15 cm (6 in) of brown material (for example: moistened dead leaves or straw) and about 5 cm (2 in) of green material (for example: fresh cut grass, fruit and vegetable scraps).
- Mix in a few shovels of garden soil or finished compost. This will introduce the necessary micro-organisms into the compost pile. This step can be skipped once the pile is actively composting. If composting slows down, add more soil.
- Mix the layers together. Additional layers may be added.
- The pile should be as damp as a wrung out sponge. If the pile is too dry, add some warm water using a pitcher or watering can (avoid using the hose). If the pile is too wet, mix in dry leaves (or shredded paper such as egg cartons or paper flower pots).
3. Maintain your compost pile.
Think of your composter as a living thing. To flourish, all living things require the following:
- Food: Your composter requires a balance of brown or carbon-rich material such as dried leaves, straw, paper or woody materials, and green or nitrogen-rich materials such as green grass, garden clippings or food remains. A combination of about 75% brown material and 25% green material by volume is the ideal combination.
- Water: The micro-organisms that work in your composter need a moist environment in order to thrive. When gauging the moisture content in your composter, think about as damp as a wrung out sponge. Too high a moisture content will cause the pile to smell; too low a moisture content will cause the pile to stop composting.
- Oxygen: Composting is accomplished much better when there is oxygen present (aerobic digestion), although your pile will compost in an oxygen poor environment (anaerobic digestion). Decomposition will occur much more quickly in an oxygen-rich environment and will produce little to no odour. In an oxygen-poor environment, decomposition will take longer and will produce strong, offensive odours. Turn the pile at least weekly to aerate it. The pile can be turned using a shovel, garden fork, hoe, hockey stick handle, etc., or you can purchase a specifically designed compost turner.
4. Harvest your finished compost.
The composting process can take from 6 weeks to 1 year to accomplish, depending on the type of pile, the composition of the material, moisture content, temperature and oxygen supply.
Finished compost is dark, crumbly, soil-like material that has lost most of the identity of the original material. Here are some tips:
- Harvest in the spring and the fall, this is also a great way to thoroughly mix the contents of the pile and kick-start the process again.
- Use biodegradable Ecolife BioBag liners -they carry the BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute logo) which identify them as approved composting bags. Toss the BioBag and contents into the composter, turn occationally, and nature will do the rest.
- The finished compost can be screened prior to using in the garden (to take out twigs and nut shells that are not fully decomposed); however, this is not necessary. A simple screen could be constructed by making a wood frame and attaching galvanized mesh or chicken wire. Material that is screened out can be put back into the composter. You may wish to screen if using on the lawn. Solving Common Problems
Pile isn't breaking down
If the pile is too wet and soggy, turn the pile and add some dry, absorbent material (for example, dry leaves or shredded paper).
If the pile is too dry, add some warm water using a pitcher or a watering can.
If the pile is as wet as a wrung-out sponge, but is not decomposing, turn the pile, add some green material (for example, grass clippings, manure, or fruit or vegetable scraps).
Pile smells like ammonia
If the pile smells like ammonia, turn the pile and add brown material (for example, leaves or shredded paper). If the problem continues, turn pile and add acidic material (for example, sawdust, pine needles, wood ash, oak leaves, or citrus vegetable scraps).
Pile smells like rotten eggs
If the pile smells putrid or like rotten eggs, turn the pile to aerate it and add dry brown materials to absorb excessive moisture.
Pile is attracting raccoons and rodents
Remove meat and/or fatty foods from the pile. Turn the pile to increase the temperature.
Ensure the pile is 75% brown material (leaves, paper) and 25% green material (fruits and vegetables).
Use a rodent-proof bin and keep the lid on. Add a ½ cm (¼ inch) wire mesh on bottom or sides. Ensure air venting holes are less than 1 cm (½ inch) in diameter.
Flies and gnats are buzzing
Don't leave the pile exposed! Mix or cover with brown material, finished compost or garden soil.
Enjoy the results with a greener lawn, fresh crisp vegetables, and colourful fragrant flowers!