Monday, November 23, 2009

Composting for Lazy Gardeners

Composting is great - it keeps yard and kitchen waste out of landfills and creates cool stuff (technical term) that improves your garden soil.

But if you talk to some people, composting sounds like a lot of work - chopping up everything you put in the pile, layering your materials just so. Then you have to turn the pile weekly, take the temperature of the pile and adjust the moisture level and ingredient mix to keep the composting process going at an optimum rate.

If you have the time and inclination to do all of those things, great. You will get great compost, and you will get it relatively quickly (in a few months).

But for me, it all sounds like too much work. If I am going to spend that much time in the garden, I would rather be doing almost anything else - even weeding.

Composting does not need to be so complicated or so time intensive. All you really need are four things:

- Brown materials (leaves)
- Green materials (grass clippings or food scraps)
- Water
- Time

kitchen scraps for composting from 2 Green Acrescomposting at 2 Green Acres, a Maryland garden

composting and gardening in Maryland from 2 Green Acres
Garden composting at 2 Green Acres in Maryland

Fall is a great time to start a compost pile. And it really can be just a pile. A compost bin helps keep things contained, but are not totally necessary.

To start, rake a portion of your leaves (your "brown" materials) into your pile or bin. Wet them down. Add some of your "green" materials. Cover with more leaves. Water again. The pile should be damp, but not totally soaked.

That's it. I usually add more kitchen scraps when I have them, but you don't even need to do that.

If you want to do multiple layers you can. If you want to water monthly you can. If you want to turn it you can. Doing these things will speed the decomposition process, but they aren't absolutely required. Same with shredding your leaves or chopping up your kitchen scraps - it will speed the process, but it is not necessary.

Just a couple of notes on what not to put in your pile:

1. Don't include any diseased plant material (the pile may not get hot enough to kill the disease)
2. Don't include any meat, dairy or oils (this will attract rodents)
3. Don't include pet waste

Some people have told me that they find composting intimidating. It shouldn't be. Composting is really just harnessing the natural decomposition process that happens without our intervention. Finished compost is such an asset in the garden, everyone should compost - even lazy gardeners.

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