Composting is a natural process in which microbes break down dead plant matter. You can create your own fertilizer and be kind to the environment by turning some of your garbage into nutrient rich soil.
To get started, you will need a compost bin or heap at least three cubic feet in size. Anything smaller will not generate enough heat to break down the organic material. You can buy composting bins at a hardware store, build your own, or simply use hay bales or bricks built up in a square. You'll also need a pitch fork to break up and stir your compost. It needs to be turned and mixed every three days minimum in order to mix microbes into every part of the heap.
Good materials to throw into your compost heap include grass cuttings, leaves, flower and vegetable remains, vegetable peelings and leaves, fruit peelings and cores, tea leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells, stale bread, unused paper and cardboard, sawdust and wood shavings, farm animal manure, ashes from a wood fire, and seaweed. Things to avoid include branches, roots, pine needles, cypress clippings, rose cuttings and other garden waste with thorns, bulbs and runners, and of course any garden waste sprayed with a pesticide. Avoid meat and dairy scraps, treated wood shavings, metals, glass, and plastic.
All materials added to the compost heap need to be cut up into small pieces and spread in layers 3 to 5 inches thick. Alternate as much as you can layers of dry materials with wet, nitrogen-rich material and add in an inch or two of manure or garden soil. Boost nutrients by adding a shovelful of wood ash, rock phosphate, lime, granite dust, blood meal, bone meal or greensand to each completed section. Moisten each layer of the pile as you go, using a gentle spray and remember to turn it at least every three days.
Your compost is ready to use when it’s dark in color, has a rich, earthy scent, and the original material is decomposed. Use it as a top dressing on soil during the growing season and add some around the bases of plants where irrigation and soil animals will slowly incorporate it into the soil below. You can sprinkle sifted compost on grass in the spring to improve the soil and top-dress houseplants with small handfuls. You can also use it in place of mulch around landscape and garden plants.