It’s easy, they tell you. Just mix the green stuff with the brown stuff, wet it and stir it. Before you know it, voila! You’ve got compost. Compost novices always forget the important details, like where to get green stuff in the middle of winter, or how to stop raccoons from bringing the family to dine on food scraps. Or the most important detail of all – how to make a compost bin when you can’t tell a slotted 2-by-4 from a corner brace.
Composting, for you novices, is the art of gathering grass clippings, leaves and kitchen scraps and recycling them into a natural fertilizer for gardens. A growing number of Americans are joining the yard-waste brigade, not all of them willingly – in some states, you can’t put grass clippings or leaves in landfills.
Others are wracked with guilt each time they send a rotten peach to meet its maker trapped inside a plastic Zip-lock baggie.
If you want to learn how to make compost you can start by building a simple container to hold everything. You can sink metal fence posts on the corners of a 4-foot square, then wrap three sides with snow fencing. In the front, stack 3-inch by 1/2-inch cedar slats across the opening. They can be removed when the compost pile is stirred.
The skilled carpenter can find more complicated patterns for making a compost bin in gardening books and at gardening stores. Be sure to put your compost bin in a sunny spot near where you will want to use the finished product. Then start adding brown stuff (dead leaves, thatch, sawdust) to green stuff (grass clippings and other living plant material).
Mix in a little nitrogen to get things started, water it down and sit back for the big burn. Within a few days, the compost pile should start to heat up. It will stay hot for about a month, after which time most of the stuff will be digested by microbes you’ve encouraged to grow there. Continue simmering it (for about a year in arid climates, a few months in humid places) by making sure air and moisture can get into the middle of the compost pile.
Making compost is not as simple as it may sound. First, leaves fall all at once, and unless you save them in piles or separate bins, aren’t there to mix in with summer grass clippings. Then there’s the matter of grinding them until they’re small enough to decompose easily.
Small time composters can run over their leaves with the lawn mower, but big-time operations require grinder.
Most composters find themselves watering their piles daily in dry weather, and regularly turning the contents with a pitchfork to let air inside.