by Saffyre Falkenberg
What is compost? Compost is decomposed organic matter that gardeners can add to their garden soil. This organic matter brings a whole host of benefits to a home garden, providing valuable nutrients for growing plants and adding additional structure to the soil. The structure that compost provides helps the soil retain moisture and enables the roots of the plants to grow stronger and more quickly.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends composting at home, as organic food waste makes up approximately 20 to 30 percent of the garbage in the United States. By composting organic materials instead of throwing them away, you can keep waste out of landfills.
Compost is a vital ingredient in any home garden, and fall is the perfect time to begin building a compost pile for next year’s soil. Creating a fall compost pile will enable the organic material to decompose by the spring planting season. This way, you will have compost ready and waiting when you begin your spring garden. Having compost ready saves valuable time and will increase the health of your plants. Additionally, composting in the fall is easy, as the season brings plenty of beneficial ingredients for nutritious compost.
Leaves are probably the most obvious source for a fall compost pile because of their sheer abundance. When composting leaves, make sure to shred them finely so they will decompose faster. Whole leaves will end up sticking together and can take up to a year to fully decompose. If you don’t have access to a shredder, a lawnmower will do just as well. Simply run over the leaf pile a few times in order to achieve finely shredded, compostable leaves.
While any leaves will work in a fall compost pile, some types of leaves are especially beneficial. The leaves from wild cherry, ash, beech, maple, and fruit trees are the best options for a fall compost system. Although oak leaves will work, be careful not to use too many, as they will make your compost more acidic. If you happen to have an overabundance of oak leaves, make sure to use that compost with plants that love acid, such as strawberries and blueberries.
One of the easiest ways to begin a fall compost pile is to add the waste from your garden as it dies out for the winter. Acceptable waste materials include the leaves, stems, and roots of your annual plants. As with fallen leaves, make sure to shred any garden waste before composting it in order to speed up the decomposition process. Avoid using any plant remains that look diseased, as they could ruin your entire compost pile by spreading the disease to your garden next year.
While any annual plants will work for composting, certain plants act as exceptional sources of nutrients. These plants include corn, green beans, and pumpkins. Do not compost your leftover tomato plants or tomatoes, however. The chance for disease with composting tomatoes is too great, and tomatoes bring too many extra seeds into the mix.
To make a good compost, you will need a mixture of both brown and green materials, Brown materials contain carbon, while green materials contain nitrogen. Both of these chemicals are necessary to the decomposition process.
Grass clippings from fresh, green grass provide a valuable source of nitrogen that will help your compost break down. If you allow your grass to dry out before composting it, then it becomes a source of carbon instead of nitrogen. Either way works for a compost pile, depending on the other ingredients you’ve included. Make sure the clippings you use for compost come from grass that has not been treated. Grass treated with herbicides and then made into compost can be detrimental to a growing garden.
As the days and nights get colder while the crisp autumns transition to cold winters, everyone loves a nice, warm fire. If you have a fireplace or even a wood-burning stove, save the ash when you clean it out. The ash from wood makes a great ingredient in a compost pile because it adds carbon. Make sure to only use ash burned from clean materials, and avoid using the remnants from chimney sweepings. To add the ash to your compost pile, sprinkle it around in order to prevent clumping.
Food waste from holidays such as Thanksgiving can go right into the compost heap. Many classic celebratory dishes require ingredients that produce waste perfect for composting. Go ahead and save those carrot and potato peels, eggshells, celery tops, broccoli stems, apple cores, tea bags, and coffee grounds. This abundance of holiday waste can be put to great use in your compost pile instead of taking up space in your garbage can. If you can, make sure to chop these ingredients very finely before adding them to the compost heap. As with other materials we’ve discussed, the more finely the ingredients are chopped, the faster they will decompose. All of these ingredients will provide beneficial nutrients that will help your futures gardens grow strong and healthy.
Compost is a necessary aspect to maximize any home garden. Not only does compost help the environment by cutting down on food waste, compost provides nutrients and structure to the soil that helps plants grow. Fall is the perfect time of year to begin composting, as there are plenty of natural ingredients available that enable you to have compost ready to use in next year’s garden. Adding leaves, garden waste, grass clippings, wood ash, and waste from holiday ingredients can create a compost pile ideal to help your garden thrive.
Want to learn more about creating fall compost for the New Year?
EPA covers Composting at Home
Old World Garden Farms covers How To Create A Great Fall Compost Pile For Next Year’s Garden
Earth Easy covers Autumn Composting Tips
Burpee covers Easy Fall Composting
Old World Garden Farms covers Composting Leaves – 4 Simple Tips To Making Great Compost With Leaves
Gardening Know How covers Grass Clipping Composting: Making Compost With Grass Clippings