Creating your own free compost is one of the best ways to help you grow healthy plants. It’s a great way to save money on soil and makes the world a little greener by recycling common organic materials you would normally just toss in the trash. The process can be as simple or as complicated as you make it.
There are many different methods of producing organic compost. Things can start to feel a bit overwhelming when you start looking at them all. I wrote this article to try and break all of this down in an organized way to make it easy to digest. The recommended DIY methods listed are focused on being simple, easy, and budget-friendly.
Simple Compost Method
Composting doesn’t have to be complicated. If you want to quickly start doing it without much research, simply take food scraps and lawn materials and make a pile in the yard. They will slowly break down and create compost.
Ideally, you want to make your compost in a dry and shady area of your yard. Your compost shouldn’t be too wet, or too dry, so occasionally water it if you need to. The compost can be ready to use in about two months to two years, depending on what materials used.
Materials to Compost
- fruit and vegetable scraps: banana peels, apple cores, orange peelings, potato skins, mango and avocado pits, corn cobs, etc.
- wine corks
- used coffee grinds
- bread, cereal, grains, pasta noodles
- tea and natural tea bags, coffee filters (not plastic)
- expired herbs and spices
- lawn materials: leaves, grass clippings, small twigs, pine needles, pine cones, tree bark
- nut shells, wood chips, sawdust (untreated)
- shredded newspaper, cardboard, junk mail, receipts (non-glossy paper materials)
- toilet rolls
- natural string or twine (not plastic or synthetic)
- hair and fur
- hay and straw
Materials to AVOID
- cooked food
- milk, dairy products
- animal droppings from cats or dogs
- large branches
- coal or charcoal ash
- diseased plants
- fat, grease, lard, oils
Composting has existed for a long time. You can find examples of it within " De Agri Cultura" , a book written Marcus Porcius Cato during the times of the Roman Empire. This book is noted to be written in 160 BC but in my opinion, the practice of composting was probably started even earlier and just hadn’t been recorded in history.
All organic waste will eventually decompose due to microorganisms in the environment that feed on decaying matter. Composting is simply the art of increasing the speed of that process. Around 85% of these organisms are bacteria, the others are different species of fungi. Pillbugs, worms, centipedes, flys, and other insects also help turn the organic matter into nutrient-rich soil.
The key to making healthy compost is creating an environment that microorganisms can thrive in. For happy microorganisms, you need air and water. When you have air, you have aerobic biodegradation, the term used to describe the breaking down of organic materials due to the oxygen present.
Science of Green to Brown Ratio
For optimal compost, it’s important to get the carbon to nitrogen ratio correct. The recommended ratio is 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Brown colored organic matter is high in carbon while the green-colored organic matter is high in nitrogen. Decomposition will still occur if the ratio isn’t correct, but it will be much slower.
If your ratio isn’t correct, your compost can give off a distinct odor of rotten eggs or ammonia. Brown materials are dry, while green materials are still fresh and moist. Fresh cut grass is green and high in nitrogen, old dead oak tree leaves are brown and high in carbon. You want most of your compost to be brown materials, with a smaller amount of green materials. The 4:1 brown to green ratio works well for me.
DIY Pallet Wood Compost Bin
This DIY video shows how to construct a compost bin with reclaimed wood pallets. One important factor to pay attention to is the type of treatment that has been used on the wood, in the video he explains the ones to avoid. You don’t want some of these chemicals leeching into your compost pile, because they aren’t food safe in an edible garden and they can be harmful to plants.
DIY Chicken Wire Fence Roll Compost Bin
Chicken wire fence compost bins are extremely cheap and easy to make. They work really well because they allow a lot of air to get into the compost from all angles. I recommend putting a layer of gravel at the bottom to prevent weeds from growing up into the compost. Weed barrier fabric works as well, but won’t last forever as stones will.
DIY Compost Tea
Compost tea is simply liquid compost made by mixing in water. This video shows a really simple method if for beginners to get into compost tea, it doesn’t require much money or materials. You probably already have a 5-gallon bucket laying around somewhere. You will find a lot of controversies online about compost tea, so it’s worth doing a bit of research before buying it.
DIY Black Soldier Fly Composting
This is a DIY guide on how to make a black soldier fly composting bin. These flies are popular among organic gardeners and farmers. You can also feed the larvae to chickens. The larvae of black soldier flies are great at quickly breaking down green compost. These insects are harmless, so don’t worry about them hurting you or your plants.
DIY Worm Vermicomposting
With many different vermicomposting methods out there, check out this method if you are looking for something cheap and easy. Earthworms are super beneficial to your garden, and they make some of the best compost that you can get. Compact soil is one of the biggest issues I see new gardeners face, and adding worms to your garden helps loosen the soil, improving airflow to the plant’s roots. Also, it’s always a plus to have a bunch of worms around if you’re a fisherman like myself.