Autumn is the best time to start a compost bin. First, when you make a compost pile in the autumn, you get a quick start on your compost with leaves which decompose quickly. Secondly, if you compost now, you’ll have beautiful black gold (that’s what my mother, the most amazing gardener I know, calls it) by springtime.
Every spring, I dream of a fantastic vegetable garden, filled with ripe produce I can pick and cook the same day. Peas, green beans, tomatoes, peppers – my whole kitchen will be overflowing with the bountiful harvest of my labor.
But reality sets in. I’m not a good gardener. Even during the spring of quarantine, my efforts were spotty at best and my rewards were slim. But, that shall not prevent me from dreaming!
Compost reportedly improves the taste and nutrition of the vegetables you grow in your garden. Using a compost pile also reduces garbage which saves space in landfills (which reduces methane production which reduces greenhouse gases).
Here are some simple tips to making a great compost pile:
- Invest in a $40 compost bin that spins if you want. Or use a garbage can with a few holes drilled
into the bottom and sides. This year, I’m using both (dreaming big!). I have a black bin and an old garbage can. You can even use an area fenced in by chicken wire.
- Vary the size of the particles in your compost bin. Mix larger things and smaller things in layers to allow for lots of air circulation.
- Stir your compost pile every once in a while. Use a pitch fork, shovel or rake, or spin it.
- To speed up your compost pile, add some soil and worms to it. The bacteria in soil and the worms in soil help to break the food scraps and garden waste down faster.
- Choose a dry shady area for your compost.
What can you compost?
Try to have a roughly equal mixture of browns (dead leaves) and greens (food scraps and grass clippings) to ensure enough nutrients for all of your spring crops.
- Brown items like dead leaves and twigs provide carbon. You can also add cardboard, paper, straw, old corn stalks, nut shells, newspaper, dryer lint, and fireplace ashes. Adding browns also reduces the smell that some compost can produce if there is a lot of food scraps.
- Green items like grass clippings, food scraps (other than meat, dairy, and oil) provide nitrogen. You can also add egg shells, coffee grounds, coffee filters, tea and tea bags, fruit peels, houseplants.
- Water helps break down the greens and the brown.
Your compost is ready when it is dark and crumbly and no longer looks like food scraps. Some foods like watermelon rinds and avocado peels take longer to break down, but most food scraps and yard waste breaks down in about six months.
It’s really never too early to teach your students about compost piles. Here’s a no-prep informational text article with analysis questions to help build your scientific literacy. I use it as a sub plan but it makes sense as a homework or enrichment assignment during a decomposition unit or a unit on soil.