Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Composting 101

You Can Compost! 

Why make compost? For one thing, its cheap. You can make your own compost from your garden and kitchen, recycling the nutrients back into the soil. Second, it's great for your soil. Adding compost increases soil aeration, water holding capacity, soil structure and texture. Amending your soil with compost rather than synthetic fertilizers can save you a bundle as well. 

As soon as we moved out to the farm last November we started our own compost piles. While we had to wait impatiently until the spring to start growing our own food and getting most our livestock, we were at least able to start composting. We have 3 compost piles that we framed with pallets. Now we're letting them sit and mature and starting 3 more piles! 

You can compost all your kitchen scraps (save dairy and meat), cardboard, non-glossy paper, hair, dryer lint, grass clippings, pine needles, weeds and fallen leaves from the garden. Doing so cuts your garbage output by easily 1/3! Check out what all you can compost at this helpful site, and what to avoid as well. Make sure to shred or tear up the paper and cardboard and compost into smaller pieces  so it composts more quickly. 

You don't need a fancy bin to compost, there are plenty of cheap and easy ideas out there, from recycling pallets, to using chicken wire or a 55 gallon plastic barrel. 

Now for the how-to. Making compost is all about gathering the materials in the right ratio (called the C:N ratio, or Carbon: Nitrogen ratio), then providing the aeration and moisture needed to let these decompose. The preferred ratio for composting is 25 or 30 to 1. This means you need farm more Carbon-rich materials in your compost pile than nitrogen. Here's a handy dandy C:N chart that breaks down common ingredients. 

Carbon-rich ingredients are often called the "browns," and include items like leaves, wood chips, pine needles, and cardboard. This will make up the bulk of your pile. The Nitrogen-rich ingredients are often called the "greens," these are your kitchen waste, garden waste and grass clippings. 

Now to aerate and moisten you pile, we recommend flipping every 1-2 weeks with a large garden fork, spraying down the pile as you do so if it needs to be moistened. Your pile should be as wet as a wrung out sponge. The more often you flip your pile, the faster it will mature, but you can leave it unflipped and do passive composting, but you won't get a finished product for 1-2 years. By flipping, moistening, and managing you pile, you can get compost in 4-8 months! 

Still Don't Think You Can Compost?

Having lived in the city, in apartments and houses with landlords who shudder away from the phrase "compost pile," we understand that not everyone has the space to start their own compost pile. We weren't able to for years because of where we lived. Every meal I'd find myself looking sadly at scraps of vegetables and wishing for some way to make some thing useful and productive out these inedible bits, a compost pile or a pig or something! 

Which is why we are opening up our compost piles to your trash! Want to compost but don't have the space/ability? Buy two 5 gallon buckets and collect your scraps and compostables every week, you can drop off your 5 gallon bucket with us at the Farmer's Market, at your share pick up, or drop it off with us at The Shire Farm. Use your second 5 gallon bucket the next week and we'll swap you! 

Yes, you can vicariously compost through The Shire Farm, and feel assured that your waste and scraps are being put to good use, fertilizing and improving the soil for your vegetables!


Our Pallet Compost Bins

What You Can And Can't Compost

Carbon: Nitrogen Ratio Chart 


  1. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. It takes me more interesting dealing with dirt exchange. Also, you can find more interesting facts here

  2. Thanks Nicole, glad we could help you learn more. I checked out the website and really liked the Material Calculator, very helpful for figuring just how much of an amendment you need for a given area. I'll definitely be using it in the future!