You Are At: AllSands Home > Gardening > How to compost
Experienced gardeners refer to compost as “black gold”; most others would look at how it’s made and say “trash”. Call it what you want, if you want to have a wonderful garden, you have to compost. It doesn’t take anything but a little time, and the dividends it pays are enormous. Compost can be used as an organic fertilizer, mulch, and to start your seedlings and it doesn’t cost a thing. A compost pile is a stack of organic material that is allowed to rot. Once this material completely breaks down, it forms rich vitamin packed soil.

The first thing to do is select the area where you want to house your compost pile. Although a properly maintained compost pile will not smell or attract animals, it will be around for awhile, so you may want to keep this in mind when locating the pile. There are several ways to stack the compost. You can heap it into a stack, or you can build a three-sided bin to store it. Garden supply catalogs also sell a variety of compost bins. Use whatever you prefer. Once you have decided where you want your stack and how you are going to store it, start building. The compost stack consists of any organic matter. Use lawn clippings (pesticide/ herbicide free), leaves, twigs and other lawn waste, as well as the vegetable scraps from your kitchen. Also from your kitchen, add eggshells and coffee grounds. Once you begin your stack, you should keep adding to it and “stir” it with a shovel periodically. The more often you turn it, the quicker it composts. The optimum size for your compost pile is around four feet square.

If it is much larger, it will take a lot longer to compost, and if it is too small, it will not generate enough heat to compost. If you generate a lot of clippings and waste you may want to have two compost piles, one with your fresh compost, that you add to and stir, and the other of finished compost that you use in the garden.

So how do you know when your compost is ready to go to the garden? After it is complete, the compost will be dark brown, or black, crumbly and moist. It will not have any discernible ingredients, with the exception perhaps of a stray eggshell, which are slow to compost, but excellent for your plants. This can take anywhere from three months to one year, depending on a variety of factors. How often you stir the pile, its exact composition, and the weather all play important factors. There are products available on the market that add to the speed that your pile will compost, and many old gardeners swear by pouring a bottle of cheap beer over the stack occasionally. These methods may help, and certainly couldn’t hurt, but they are also not necessary.

Once your compost is ready, what do you do with it? Use it as mulch around your vegetables and flowers, or work it into the soil around each plant. You can also use it as a potting mix, as it retains water very well. Once your compost is ready, use it! Your garden will thank you.