“Equal parts of green and brown help to break the compost down.”  Compost is a simple, frugal way to improve the soil that most of us are faced with when we step out the door.  The best part is that it can be inexpensively improved by simply adding compost.

Compost is made from yard and kitchen debris that has decomposed into a brown, crumbly. nutrient-rich material.  Adding to the riches, compost helps to improve the ability of sandy soil to hold water and increases drainage in clay soil.

Here’s how to make your own compost: 

Urban gardeners in tighter quarters might want to consider purchasing a compact self-contained bin specifically designed for composting.  The principals of what goes into the mix are the same as a more free-form pile.

  • Pick an easily accessible level location that does not detract from your garden or your neighbor’s.  Being within reach of the garden hose for dry spells helps.  Perform the “squeeze test” to see if the water content is right.  A handful of compost should have the moisture content of a squeezed out sponge.  If its too wet, add more dry ingredients.  Too dry?  Roll out the hose.  Sunlight will speed up the process as well as good drainage. A waterlogged pile decomposes slowly and can smell bad.  Drainage can be improvised by building the pile on top of a wooden pallet covered with screen.
  • Place larger items on the bottom of the pile.  Sunflower stalks, old tomato or melon vines or even a few twigs helps the air to circulate from the base.  The next layer should be equal parts green and brown plant material.
  • Green Waste (nitrogen based) include fruit and vegetable scraps, spent annuals, grass clippings, manure, seaweed and kelp, coffee grounds and tea bags.  Brown waste (carbon based) includes cornstalks and cobs, evergreen needles, shredded uncolored paper, sawdust and wood chips, straw, hay and most tree leaves.  If your compost smells like ammonia, you need more carbon-rich brown debris.  If your compost doesn’t decompose fast enough, add more nitrogen-rich green debris.
  • Never use disease and/or insect infested plants, grass clippings that have been treated with weed killer, meat, fish, bones, egg whites or yolks (egg shells are ok), fats, pet or human waste, charcoal ashes, fabric scraps, weeds that have gone to seed or invasive weeds.

Turn the pile frequently, moving the new additions to the middle with a pitch fork.  Occasionally poke air holes into the pile with an old broom handle.  Another option is to build the pile around an air chimney made out of an old piece of PVC pipe that has been drilled, creating a vent.