Grow Your Own Food is an information series on Gardening in Canada that covers every aspect of growing your own food at home. I help you every step of the way so that you can have the garden you dream of. This series was originally written for and published on Food Bloggers of Canada.
We briefly touched on the practise of composting in an earlier article and the benefits from using it in your garden. By composting you are adding back important nutrients which will build healthier richer soil which in turn will feed your vegetables. Treat your gardens to compost on a regular basis and your soil will become dark soft nutrient rich gold.
There are many options when it comes to composting. We will look at the various methods and I hope you can find one which would be a good fit in your situation. Composting is something that is possible for every type of gardener, it just depends on how much work and time you want to invest into your composting efforts.
Many cities run their own composting programs, from reduced cost bins for sale (some cities even include delivery) as well as videos on their websites to help you build your bin and the basics of composting. Your city may also hold composting and small space gardening workshops at various times throughout the year – especially in spring!
A lot of cities in Canada, especially larger urban centres, have Green Bin programs with weekly pick up of compostable materials like lawn and yard trimmings as well as food waste (some even have bylaws that require you to Green Bin your food waste rather than put it in your garbage).
If you want to contribute to better waste management but don’t want to actively compost in your yard due to space or time restrictions this is a great option. The good news is you can often buy finished compost from the city!
Be sure to check out your local town or city websites and take advantage of these low cost alternatives to start or add to your composting efforts.
The Ingredients to Creating Compost
There are certain amendments needed to create a good active compost, browns which are things that are higher in carbon.
- wood ash (do not use ashes from pressure treated wood)
- woods chips
- fruit scraps
We also need to add greens to the compost, these are amendments higher in nitrogen
- grass clippings
- garden waste, including the weeds
- food scraps (do not introduce any type of meat or fish to the compost)
- coffee grounds
What Ratio of Browns to Greens Should You Use?
When we initially build the compost pile we use a 30:1 ratio of browns to greens. The greens are what create the heat in the compost and encourage organic breakdown so you can adjust it accordingly as to how hot your pile is.
One thing to note is when there are more greens added to the pile there may be a bit of an odor, if you have ever left freshly cut grass in the bag for a few days you will know what that smell is. Another thing to note is the smaller the amendments the quicker they will break down. Take the time to chop everything into smaller bits to help speed up the process.
An active pile can get hot and ideally we hope to reach and internal pile temperature of 160° F which is adequate to kill off any weed seeds the compost pile may contain. After the first few weeks bacteria in the pile will start to die off and the pile will begin to cool. At this time we need to be turning the pile to feed air back in so that bacteria can continue breaking down the amendments and raise the temperature of the pile.
The base for the compost pile should consist of a layer of twigs. We want to create air flow to the bottom of the pile. When layering the amendments be sure to wet each layer lightly with the garden hose. As the weeks go by turn the pile often adding water if it looks to be dry. You want to keep it a bit moist but not saturated. The more you turn the pile, the more air you are adding and the quicker it will break down the organic material and become finished compost.
No matter which method you use to compost we always use the same ratio for amendments. Continue to add browns and greens throughout the entire year.
You may have seen these in the gardening magazines or perhaps online. Often barrel shaped containers that are usually elevated off the ground and can be externally rotated. Some can have aeriation holes or not, though some holes for air movement are preferred as air flow is very important in the composting process.
They are rotated 3 to 4 times a week to mix the amendments and aerate. There is minimal work required and Tumble Composting is the least labour intensive method of creating compost. You can buy Tumble Composters in store, online or if you love a good project by all means construct your own. Use a light hand when adding water to the composter as we do not want it too wet, the amendments will rot if they become too wet.
The Multi Stall Open Bin Method
This is a great option when you have more room to work with. The Open Bin method consists of a 3 walled structure with the top, front and bottom open. You will often see a 3 stall open bin compost station, usually built with pallets, they are a good height, are easy to nail or wire together and super easy to find.
In the 3 stall system the first stall is used to collect extra amendments. The centre stall is our active compost pile and the third stall is where we store all of the finished compost. This method is great as it keeps everything contained yet gives you some excellent working space to turn the pile. You can make as many stalls as needed and even just a single stall is a great option.
The Piling Method.
Though not neat and tidy like the previous methods this one is simple and easy. We simply create a free form pile of organic material and use a pitch fork to turn it. It is not a pretty set up so if that is a concern be sure to place it in a hidden location. Keep it moist and turn numerous times a week.
Closed Bin Composting
These were some of the first composters on the market about 20 years ago. Though they look nice in the yard they are not the easiest of options when it comes to composting. You will need a special Compost Aerating tool made to turn the compost in such tight quarters.
Once the compost is ready you remove it from a door at the bottom of the bin. This is for those who want to compost kitchen scraps and are interested in small scale composting. As with the other methods be sure to start off with twigs as your base and layer with your browns and greens being sure to water the layers lightly.
Now you have some great options to various composting methods gardeners use and I hope you can find a way to implement composting to your yard and garden. You can stock pile your finished compost and start adding it to your flower beds and gardens.
Because it is so nutrient rich you only need to side dress the flowers and vegetables with the finished material, it is a slow release fertilizer so you don’t need to use a lot of it. You can also add it the soil in any containers or pots you grow in.