When it comes to improving any kind of soil, compost is the greatest gift a gardener could ask for (which, of course, is how it got the nickname black gold). It’s nature’s way of turning once-living matter, such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, and decaying fruit, into a substance that makes living plants thrive in a manner that no commercial fertilizer can. You can buy compost at most garden centers, but it’s a snap to make your own.
The bin system. This method produces hot compost, just like the kind you’d get from an old-fashioned compost pile—but in a much neater and easier way. To get started, buy a commercial compost bin at a garden center or from a catalog. Then throw in your raw ingredients, and give the wheel a spin every week or two.
The bag routine. This cold composting method takes longer than the bin method, but all you need are some plastic garbage bags and whatever yard waste or kitchen scraps (minus meats and sauces) that you have on hand. Here’s the process:
- Fill a large, black plastic garbage bag with a mixture of chopped leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps.
- When the bag is nearly full, sprinkle a couple quarts of water over the contents, and shake or roll the bag until all the ingredients are moist.
- Tie the bag shut, and leave it in an out-of-the-way place where the temperature will stay above 45°F for a few months. (Roll the bags around every few days for faster results.) As for what to put inside your bin or bag, you want roughly three parts high-carbon ingredients—the “Browns”—for every one that’s high in nitrogen—the “Greens” (see below). If you have too many browns, the compost could take years to cook. Too many greens, and it’ll give off an odor that would outperform a startled skunk.
Chipped twigs and branches
Dead flower and veggie stalks
Dry leaves and plant stalks
Fruit and veggie scraps
Green leaves or stems
Hair (pet or human)