As environmental consciousness becomes more and more popular, people are looking for ways to make a difference and contribute to the preservation and protection of our planet and the resources that it has to offer. One of the best ways to run a sustainable household is to start a backyard compost system.
Why is Composting Important?
Composting refers to the process of using aerobic decomposition of organic materials such as dried leaves, kitchen scraps, paper, wood chips, and other natural waste to create a soil-enriching substance.
This eco-friendly practice helps reduce pollution generated by landfills by cutting down on waste production. Composting also eliminates the need for chemical-laden fertilizers by providing nutrition to your garden’s soil the natural way.
The Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio is the Secret to Maintaining a Healthy Compost Pile
Compost consists of varying levels of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials, and it is crucial to get the ratio between the two right. This is because the microorganisms that enable the composting process need a healthy balance of carbon and nitrogen in order to remain sufficiently active to carry out their work.
The carbon/nitrogen ratio needed for maintaining a high functioning compost pile is 2:1, which means that two-thirds of the compost pile must be made of carbon-rich, brown materials. This provides the perfect balance for composting while maintaining the integrity and hygiene levels of the composting system.
Brown and Green Compost Materials: What is the Difference?
As already mentioned, your composting unit will need to be fed with two kinds of organic materials: brown and green. Green materials are sometimes referred to as wet materials, and they are the nitrogen-rich components of your compost pile. These include green leaves, tea leaves, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, and so on.
On the other hand, brown materials are dry and carbon-rich and give the compost a light and fluffy consistency. Materials included are shredded paper, wood pellets, dried leaves, and straw. These materials are critical as they help to ensure that your pile of compost is healthy and that oxygen can reach the organisms that drive the composting process.
Steps to Build Your Backyard Compost Pile
Setting up your own backyard composting unit is not as intimidating a process as it might initially seem. Before you begin working on a compost pile in your backyard, make sure to protect any grill or other equipment that you may have in your backyard with grill covers or tarps in case things get a bit messy. Read on to learn how to create and maintain the perfect backyard compost system in just 7 steps.
- Choose a Compost Bin
The size of your compost bin will fully depend on how much material you wish to compost. You can find various compost bins at gardening stores, or you can also repurpose water drums or trash cans to make the perfect backyard bin.
- Gather Green Materials for the Pile
For this section of your pile, you can use waste produced in your kitchen along with other wet materials such as green leaves and grass clippings. When you have vegetable and fruit waste in the kitchen, make sure to store it in a partially closed or covered container. This is necessary to deter flies and prevent foul odors caused by storing these foods.
- Store Adequate Quantities of Brown Materials
As opposed to greens, twice the space is needed to store carbon-rich brown materials. Therefore, it is important to keep sufficient brown materials such as wood shavings, shredded papers, dried leaves, and so on at hand to feed your backyard compost. Store these materials temporarily in your garage or backyard before combining them in the compost pile; it’s advisable to protect your brown materials from the rain and the wind. For this, you can use tarps to cover your container of materials.
- Create a Coarse Base with Twigs or Straws
When you start building your compost pile, the first thing you need to do is create a coarse base that is 6-12 inches deep, on top of which you will be adding the compost materials. This base should be created with coarse dried material, like twigs or straw. The purpose of this it to help aerate the pile and aid the drainage of water. If you are placing your pile on a deck or patio and are worried about dirt and damage, consider buying a custom tarp to protect your living space.
- Add the Compost Materials in Alternating Layers
On top of the base, you can add the browns and greens to start building your compost pile. The recommended way to do so is by adding them in alternating layers, with the green layer always being in the middle of two brown layers. Note that the brown layers must always be at least twice as thick as the green layers. Add layers similarly as more and more compost materials are gathered.
- Cover the Pile
Moisture and heat are both essential to the composting process, and a cover is an indispensable part of your backyard composting unit. Covering your pile (or bin if you choose to contain your composting) with a custom-size tarp will help your pile retain both moisture and heat, aiding in the composting process. If you live in a region with extreme heat, you can also consider using solar shades to more adequately control the heat your compost is exposed to. This will have the secondary benefit of blocking light coming in through your windows without compromising on your view of your backyard.
- Turn the Pile
Every few weeks or months, use a shovel to turn and mix your compost pile. This helps aerate and oxygenate the pile, without which composting is impossible. This speeds the process of composting and can also be achieved by simply tumbling or rolling your bin. Alternatively, you may also buy a compost tumbler that automatically does the mixing for you.