Composting can be complicated, but it's a process that can happen all on it's own without our input. It's much like sunshine. We don't have to do anything to make daylight; the sun shines all on its own.


If you want fast compost, more work is involved. The slow method is easier but takes longer. There is a method that combines the best of all these, but first here's why you need to compost.


Why Compost?


“The soil must furnish the whole foundation of plant life.” F.F. Rockwell 1912


Soil consists of sand, silt and clay. More importantly organic gardening relies on ecological systems. Some of these systems can be seen; some are microscopic. It's an entire web of life: bacteria, fungus, worms and bugs all working together to produce strong plants and bountiful harvests.


Compost plays perhaps the most important part of this process. When plants and animals die, they breakdown into the dirt-like substance that we call compost. They will continue to break down compost into humus, the stable form of decayed organic matter that can't break down anymore and can last for centuries—assuming wind and rain won't wash it away.


Benefits of Compost

  • Compost holds nearly its own weight in water, guarding against drought conditions.
  • It makes nutrients available to plants.
  • It conditions soil by loosening clay and binding sand.


Methods of Composting


  • The Fast Method: This is often called hot composting. Gather equal parts fresh green materials like grass or garden waste; mix with brown materials like dead leaves or saw dust. This will heat up to over 140 F. Turn it every two days, and keep it moist in order to keep it hot. After a couple weeks you'll have compost, although it'll continue to break down further over time.


  • Slow Method: Leaf mold is a slow process that can take two or three years. Pile lots of leaves in autumn. The pile will breakdown into leaf mold which has great water holding capabilities and is a great peat moss substitute and seed starter material.


  • The Worm Method: Yes, worms make perfect compost, and it's more nutrient dense than the methods listed above. They can make usable compost in about four months. They turn and digest everything without much effort from you.


How to Compost

By far the best way to make compost is with patience. However, here's a method that will produce stable compost in a matter of months instead of years:


Step One

  • If it's autumn or winter go ahead and collect several large piles of leaves, so let they'll begin to break down. This will supply materials for mulch, worm bins and other methods of compost should you choose them. Leaves are the forest floor; collect lots of them to simulate it.

Step Two

  • During the spring, as you mow the lawn, mix equal parts fresh grass clippings and the leaves you collected over the winter into a separate pile measuring five feet wide and three feet high. It's best to stack the pile in two to three inch layers alternating between browns and greens.
  • After a few days this should heat up to over 140 F. Turn it every two days making sure it stays moist enough to barely squeeze a drop or two of water per fistful.

Step Three

  • After two or three weeks, the compost pile won't heat up when turned. Buy five pounds of earthworms, put them into the pile, and they'll fully finish the compost for you. This will produce a more refined, stable product than fast composting alone.

Step Four

  • Apply the finished compost directly over your garden area. I usually do this at season's. Plant rye and vetch to serve as a cover crop so that wind and rain won't wash your hard work away! The rye and vetch will provide fresh organic matter for next season's composting efforts.

Grow'em big,

One Response to “Composting Help for First Timers”

  1. Damon Says:

    What methods of composting have you tried?

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.