The following is a guest post from Mike Cushing.
Whether you’re a hobby gardener or growing all your own food, composting should be an integral part of your garden and lawn care activities for the sole reason to save you money.
Compost, the “black gold” mix of recycled food, vegetable and yard scraps, is full of nutrients. You can then take the end product and use it for your garden’s soil, reducing your costs for adding topsoil ($2-3/bag) or fertilizer ($10-$15/bag).
And as the first warm days of spring roll in, starting your compost pile will never be easier.
Grab a Rake
Your lawn or garden is covered with compostable material. If there’s a nice carpet of leaves to be raked or is still waiting for the first touch of the lawn mower after winter, there’s your first layer.
Pro tip: Fallen leaves are high in carbon and will provide a lot of the “brown” material necessary to get your compost pile going.
Don’t Throw That Out
The path to a successful compost pile starts in the home. On average, up to 40% of garbage thrown out could be composted. That allows you to lower your garbage removal cost since you’ll be reusing what they would haul away.
Everything from vegetable waste and fruit rinds to shredded newspaper and pet hair can be added to your compost pile. If you peel a carrot or a potato, hold onto the skin. Keep that apple core and your coffee grounds: It’s all a part of gardening black gold.
Pro tip: Avoid adding meat or bones to your compost pile. Meats decompose in a different way and may attract unwelcome pests.
For the low-cost composter with a yard, you can easily make a 3 – 4 foot circular cage of chicken wire to contain your pile. Place the pile in the corner of your garden, slightly elevated, so rainwater can carry nutrients to your garden.
If you live in the city, grab a 20-gallon trashcan with a lid for less than $10. Prep the bin by poking holes to allow airflow, and then find a spot where the bin will get some indirect sunlight to heat it up. See my highly popular DIY Compost Bin tutorial here.
Whether you decide on a compost pile or a compost bin, the process is largely similar:
1. Start with a layer of those dead leaves and some shredded newspaper. Add a layer of food waste and grass clippings, then toss in a few handfuls of good gardening soil. This will introduce additional nutrients and bacteria to help the compost process.
2. Alternate these layers until you have a 3 foot pile. Pro Tip: Strike a balance between brown materials and green materials like grass clippings or food waste. GardenWeb.com can help you find the right ratio.
3. It will take 4 – 6 weeks to compost. Keep it damp, but not wet, and make sure it stays warm. Pro tip: Once a week, gently turn the material in your pile with a pitchfork or a gardening fork.
Soon, you’ll be able to harvest good compost from the bottom of your pile. Every few months, add this to your garden for optimal growing. As you get more experienced, you’ll be able to tinker with your compost ingredients to find the perfect solution for your garden needs.
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Mike Cushing is an avid gardener and freelance writer for Road Rat Motors. When he’s not writing, he’s scouring sources to find new ways to live frugally, including starting a compost pile and growing fresh herbs.