When we bought our new house, one of the first questions people asked me was if we were putting in a compost pile. Since we arrived just as the cold weather started, it wasn’t a priority. As it warms up, my father came over and “So where’s the compost?” If you’re wondering, it’s behind the big shed.
Words can’t describe how much I love this trend. Composting is an earth-friendly choice that also saves you money and creates the highest quality garden fertilizer essentially out of garbage.
Think of it as bone broth for your plants.
Of course, you might not have the slightest idea what composting is, but since everyone expects you to know, it’s embarrassing to ask questions. So for my uninitiated readers, let’s do a quick introduction to the wonderful, green world of composting.
Composting is a way to control and then speed up the natural decomposition process of waste products. The reason we do this is to return nutrients and vitamins to the soil so that we can replenish it and once again grow healthy herbs, vegetables, fruit and yes, flowers.
Yes, it’s possible to keep up the cycle of replenishing the soil without turning to chemical fertilizers.
There has been a relatively brief period of our history in which everything went right into the trash can. From the trash, all the ‘garbage’ disappeared to a landfill far from our homes. More and more, though, communities and municipal governments are waking up to the fact that we need those waste products to be diverted away from landfills and into compost heaps.
And that is often one answer to your waste. If you live in a community that supplies a green bin or the equivalent, put your allowed organics in there and let the municipality take it away. In communities that do that, at least where I have lived, you then have the right to get a certain amount of free compost at the landfill.
You should totally take advantage of that, by the way. If you don’t garden, give the compost to a neighbour who does and you’ll most likely score free vegetables.
But you want to go one step further and create your own compost.
So what do you need, and how do you start?
It honestly doesn’t require a lot of knowledge. A few tools and some patience are a great start. Nature does most of the work.
Put these items on your composting shopping list
A compost bin
No, you do not NEED an actual compost bin. Right now mine is simply a pile of organic matter behind the big shed.
But if you are in a place where the material must be contained a bit more, an actual bin is a good idea. It should fit the space you have available, of course. You can choose from plastic, metal or wooden compost bins, and they range from very simple to complicated and practically hands-off.
If you are buying a ready-made composter, give some thought to what you want it to look like and how much work you want to do. Ensure that it can be easily covered to keep animals out and the smell in.
If you’re planning a good old-fashioned compost heap, you still need to keep it covered with a tarp of some sort, and you might want to look into containing it with recycled wooden pallets or something similar. The tarp is important since it keeps out unwanted animals but still allows worms to enter from underneath.
A pitchfork or compost fork
You could probably dump all of your organic material in a heap and leave it. Eventually it will rot. But it will take a very long time and in the meantime, it’s going to smell.
A pitchfork or compost fork lets you turn and aerate the heap.
You can choose from a variety of different options on the market, such as thin, long, tapered, or upward curving, but it all really depends on the size of your compost bin or heap, again.
A soil fork for digging
When your compost is almost finished, it will be heavier in consistency, and this will require a fork which is made for soil. This will also help you mix your compost into your garden, which is your end goal.
Shovel or spade
A shovel has a pointed tip, or sometimes a rounded tip, and usually a straight handle. They’re meant for digging but can certainly be used to lift compost and move it short distances. Personally, I prefer shovels over spades.
A spade has a flat tip and usually a D at the top for gripping. They do a great job when you are edging a garden. When you are lifting and carrying material like compost, the D grip gives you extra leverage. Basically, spades are earth-movers, compost-movers. When you need to bring compost to your garden, you can use a spade to carry it to your wheelbarrow.
You will probably find that both are useful. In fact, as you grow your homestead, you might find yourself building up quite a collection of shovels and spades.
“Go grab Maman a shovel. No, not a spade, a shovel. No, not that shovel, the one with the wood handle. No, the SHORT wood handle. I mean, the short wood handle that has a D grip on it. Yes, that one.” Absolutely not kidding.
Whichever you are buying, though, get the best one you can afford. These are workhorses and will give you years of service.
What does that mean? (Yes, I wondered, too.) It means getting a tool made of carbon or stainless steel. Check that it is hand forged, not stamped, from a single piece of heavy metal. Preferably it will be strapped solidly to the handle.
All handles can break, no matter what they are made from. Keep that in mind. Ash handles are great for durability and shock resistance. They’ve been the gold standard for hundreds of years and for good reason. Some people prefer fiberglass handles. They do last much longer, but they don’t absorb shock well and if they do break, it’s much harder to replace just the handle.
A garden hose
If your compost gets to any decent size, a watering can won’t be enough to keep it moist. Besides, you need a good hose for your garden. Get a good quality one that won’t crack or leak. The very best garden hoses have flow meters, which means you can taper the amount of flow. Sometimes we need more variation than ‘on’ and ‘off’.
Wheelbarrow or bucket
If you’re only making a small amount of compost, you can certainly carry it to your garden in a bucket. Just be warned – it can get heavy very easily.
If you want to carry any decent amount, you’ll want a wheelbarrow. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Don’t be afraid to play around with it at the store and see if you feel comfortable moving it around and tipping it forward. Deep wheelbarrows can seem like a good value because they hold so much more, but if you can’t push it or tip it, you will come to regret the purchase. Another thing to consider is you want a wheelbarrow with one wheel or two. Two might not look like a ‘proper’ wheelbarrow, but no one really enjoys having the wheelbarrow topple over halfway to the garden.