What Every Gardener Should Know About Compost

Compost is made up of leftover organic matter in the form of manure, leaves, twigs, even kitchen scraps. It’s relatively easy to add compost to your garden to fertilize it and help your plants grow strong and healthy. You can make it yourself, or you can buy it if you don’t have enough time to get a good compost pile going in time for planting your garden. 

Here’s everything you need to know about composting for your garden. 

How to compost

You’ll find several methods for composting, and none of them are inherently better than another. In the end, use the composting method that works for you and that you know you’ll be able to consistently use. You can’t add too much compost to your soil, so don’t worry about having an excessive amount of compost to work with.

Table scraps alone aren’t compost. In order to turn into compost, you need four things: organic matter, oxygen, bacteria, and moisture. When you think about organic matter, it’s easy to divide them up into two colors: brown and green. 

Brown organic materials are things like twigs, hay, dead leaves, and manure. They provide carbon. Green organic materials could be fruit rinds, plant debris, or lawn clippings. They provide nitrogen. Aim for a one to one ratio of green and brown materials.

The two most common and basic ways to compost can be broken down into active and passive.

Active composting

Active composting comes in varying degrees. It’s more hands-on than passive composting. Traditional active composting involves starting with a layer of brown materials, then adding a layer of green materials. Wait for it to dry, then add more layers. Turn your pile every few weeks to mix it evenly until your pile reaches about three feet high. Now, put a tarp on it to trap the nutrients and keep the pile from getting too wet. 

Your compost is ready to use when it gets crumbly and starts to look more like soil than a pile of debris. You can start using it at this point, leaving behind debris that hasn’t fully decomposed yet. Ideally, you’ll have more than one compost pile going at a time so you have one to use and at least one more that you’re in the process of decomposing that will be ready to go when you need it.

Passive composting

Passive composting is for gardeners who prefer to take a “wait and see” approach. Basically, you pile your organic matter into one spot and wait for it to decompose. While this is arguably the easier and more hands-off composting method, it can take years to decompose, which means you need to be patient. And even then, it might not get hot enough to actually kill off weeds.

When to add compost

You can add compost when you’re planting to provide microorganisms to your plants and help keep weeds at bay. If your garden is already in season, you can add compost as mulch by placing it a few inches from your plants. This protects your plants’ stems and still provides nutrients and kills off weeds. 

No matter what type of compost method you use, whether active, passive, or store bought, it’s just one tool in your gardening toolkit. When combined with gardening soil amendments, composting will give you a bountiful garden.