The composting process requires:
- Organic material
- Soil organisms
You do not have to do much more than alternate layers of organic waste: green (high nitrogen) materials and brown (high carbon) materials. Thin layers of soil can be added if needed. This will increase the number of soil organisms in the pile. Keep moist and turn frequently to provide an adequate air supply.
The composting process will be more effective if you follow these suggestions.
To get started, make a layer of leaves or other brown vegetation. Then add a layer of green plant material. Add kitchen wastes as they accumulate. Dig these into the pile or cover with a thin layer of soil.
Continue adding material, alternating layers of brown material, green yard waste and kitchen waste. Brown yard waste is generally high in carbon. Kitchen scraps and fresh yard waste are high in nitrogen. Both carbon and nitrogen are needed to build a balanced compost pile. Fine materials such as grass clippings should be added in thin layers so that they do not compact.
Keep the material as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Covering the pile with a plastic sheet may help to retain moisture. Water the pile occasionally if it becomes too dry.
Turn the pile every few weeks or whenever it becomes compacted, too wet, or develops an odour. A garden fork, commercial aerator, rake or pitchfork can be used to keep the pile properly turned and aerated. Mix the material from the edges of the pile into the middle for more even decomposition.
Excerpts from the publication, Alberta Taking Action Through Backyard Composting to Reduce Household Waste used with permission of Alberta Environment.
Composting frequently asked questions
Composting is a biological process that breaks down kitchen, lawn and garden wastes into a soil-like material called humus.
Waste management is everyone's business, and the best place to begin is right in your own backyard. Up to 52 per cent of your household waste is organic matter, which can be composted, thereby saving scarce landfill space. At the same time, composting produces a rich soil supplement which helps improves plant growth by:
- helping break down heavy clay soils
- adding water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils
- adding essential nutrients to soil
- Yard waste (grass clippings, fallen leaves, weeds before they seed, disease free plants)
- Kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, etc.)
4. What items should I not put in my compost?Permanent link to What items should I not put in my compost?
- Meat, bones, or fatty foods such as cheese, salad dressing or leftover cooking oil as these attract pests and create odour. Instead put these items in your organics cart for weekly pickup.
- Woody yard waste can be chopped and shredded for mulch or path making.
The composting time will vary depending on the materials you use and outdoor conditions. If your kitchen and yard waste is cut into smaller pieces, the process will be faster. Frequently turning the pile and keeping the pile moist will also speed the process.
Some composting methods will produce compost in two months; others will take two years or more.
Will the compost pile smell?
A compost pile that is properly aerated and working well should not have an unpleasant odour. If there is a smell, the material may be too wet or compacted. Turning the pile frequently and adding dry leaves can help absorb excess moisture. Dig food wastes into the pile or cover them with a thin layer of soil.
7. What is the best location for composting?Permanent link to What is the best location for composting?
Your composter can be placed in sunny or shady areas. If in a sunny area, check the pile more often to ensure that it does not dry out.
The composting process slows down in cold weather, but you can continue to add materials to the pile throughout winter. In spring, the process becomes active again, and compost is created faster than at any other time of the year. This is because the freeze and thaw cycle actually helps break down the organic matter.
No. Animal feces may contain organisms that can cause disease to humans.
Will composting attract animals?
If properly maintained, the compost should not attract animals. To lessen the chances:
- dig food waste into the pile or cover it with soil
- do not add meat scraps or fat to your compost pile
- follow our tips to ensure fast composting (correct mix of materials and balance of air and moisture)
- Use a composting bin with a cover. You can also line the bin with .5 to 1 cm galvanized wire mesh, 16 to 20 gauge in strength. Secure wire mesh across the bottom of the bin.
How can I discourage flies?
Fruit flies and soil gnats are decomposers who actually help make compost. You can discourage them, however, by digging food into the pile or covering it with soil.
Yes. Wood ashes are a good source of potash. Add them in thin layers.
Do not compost charcoal or coal ashes.
To prevent contaminating the soil with weed seeds, avoid putting ripened weeds in the compost heap. If the weeds are green and the seeds are not mature, they may be added. Avoid adding quack grass or roots to the heap. Also keep out any material that is diseased or has been recently sprayed with a pesticide.
Can I compost grass clippings?
Large volumes of grass in spring and early summer can be difficult to handle. Ideally, grass clippings should be left on the lawn after cutting (which is known as grasscycling). This will return nutrients to your lawn, reducing the need for fertilizer.
Cut grass frequently (every 5 to 6 days during fast growing periods), or when the grass is 6 to 8 cm. No more than one third of the blame (2.5 cm) should be cut at any one time.
Excess clippings can be dried briefly in the sun before being added to the compost pile.
Clippings can be mixed with last year's decaying leaves in a ratio of 2 parts grass to 1 part leaves.
What can I do with leaves?
In the fall, save your leaves in a dry location to add to grass clippings over the summer. Leaves can also be used as mulch around plants or shrubs or dug into the soil.