All About Compost for Your Urban Garden

There was a lesson in gardening that I learned later in life, friends. That lesson has to do with compost, and the essential role it plays on our urban homestead.

Composting is important for a few reasons. First, the more yard and kitchen waste that goes into compost the less that takes up space in the landfill. Second, compost is black gold for a gardener. That finished compost is a valuable addition to the soil quality. Let's talk about the essentials of composting, and how to get the compost cookin' on your urban farm, in your backyard garden, or for your beautiful flower bed.

There are five basic ingredients in compost: 

  1. a carbon source, like leaves or straw
  2. a nitrogen source, like grass clippings or pulled weeds
  3. water
  4. oxygen
  5. microorganisms, like worms and bugs

Compost cooks. Literally. An ideal compost pile will be between 90 and 140 degrees. It will be warm in the center, even in the wintertime. However, anything above 140 degrees will kill the working microorganisms in your compost. Just turn your compost every 10 days or so to regulate your temperature.

Ready to build or buy your compost bin? Awesome! You can do like us and score a used bin from Craigslist, or you can buy one, or you can build your own. A simple Google search will yield dozens of plans that can incorporate lots of building materials, like pallets, wire fencing, concrete blocks, etc.

An ideal compost set up will be at least 3'x3'x3', but no more than 5'x5'x5'. This provides optimum decomposition that is fast and uniform. Select an area that is convenient to access and where water is readily available (yes, you'll have to water your bin on occasion). Some say to keep your bin out of direct sunlight, but ours is in a very sunny location and does very, very well.

After you have your compost area established, you can begin tossing in just about any organic matter, like:

  • Aquatic weeds
  • Bread
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Evergreen needles
  • Fruit
  • Fruit peels and rinds
  • Garden wastes
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Paper
  • Sawdust
  • Straw
  • Sod
  • Tea leaves
  • Vegetables
  • Wood ash
  • Wood chips
  • Non-shiny newsprint (that is torn into small pieces)

However, do NOT compost the following:

  • Dairy products
  • Bones
  • Cat, dog, or human manure
  • Any meats (chicken, fish, beef, etc.)
  • Lard or oils
  • Mayonaise
  • Peanut butter
  • Salad dressings
  • Diseased plant material
  • Weeds that have gone to seed

How long will it take before you have finished compost? 

If you have a fancy compost bin that you can turn, you might have compost in 2 months or less! The standard compost time frame is 2 to 4 months. If you have a bin like ours, it will take a while, friends. A good while. From the first time to establish your pile to the time you spread it on your garden, it could take at least 6 months to a year.

It's also possible that there will be compost at the bottom of your pile or bin, and uncomposted products at the top. That's ok. Use the stuff at the bottom and keep cookin' the stuff on the top. By the time you've turned your bin 3 times, much of the matter should be unrecognizable from it's original state.

Backyard chickens can contribute to your compost!

Our chickens eat up a lot of the table scraps and garden waste from our urban homestead. This doesn't leave a lot for the compost bin. This is just fine, because while those chickens are taking products away from our compost, they are giving us something in return.

Their poo.

About 2 or 3 times a year we shovel out the coop and their attached run. All of the bedding and waste from the coop and run go into the compost bin for cookin' and are turned into compost a few months later. 

Do you have a compost bin at your place? Share your tips and thoughts with us!

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1 comment:

  1. We started composting this spring. I scored a compost bin on a buy/sell page and we started right away. I think it will be next year before we reap the benefits but that's just fine with us. We found a cute little table top compost bin that the kids love to carry out and add to the pile.


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