Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to help you Grow Your Own Food in Canada. Today we're showing you how to get started with composting and giving you a run down on composting options for every garden size!

How To Get Started With Composting | Food Bloggers of Canada

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We briefly touched on the practice of composting in an earlier article and the benefits from using it in your garden. By composting you're adding back important nutrients, which builds healthier, richer soil which in turn feeds your vegetables. Treat your gardens to compost on a regular basis and your soil will become dark, soft, nutrient-rich gold.

There are many options when it comes to composting. We'll look at the various methods and I hope you find one that would be a good fit in your situation. Composting is something that's possible for every type of gardener. It just depends on how much work and time you want to invest into your composting efforts.

Many cities run their own composting programs, from reduced cost bins for sale (some cities even include delivery) as well as videos on their websites to help you build your bin and the basics of composting. Your city may also hold composting and small space gardening workshops at various times throughout the year - especially in spring!

A lot of cities in Canada, especially larger urban centres, have Green Bin programs with weekly pick up of compostable materials like lawn and yard trimmings as well as food waste (some even have bylaws that require you to Green Bin your food waste rather than put it in your garbage).  If you want to contribute to better waste management but don't want to actively compost in your yard due to space or time restrictions this is a great option. The good news is you can often buy finished compost from the city!

Be sure to check out your local town or city websites and take advantage of these low cost alternatives to start or add to your composting efforts.

The Ingredients to Creating Compost

To make good compost, you need the right ingredients (often called "amendments" in the gardening world)!

Browns

The first are browns, which are things that are higher in carbon.

  • Wood ash (don't use ashes from pressure-treated wood)
  • Leaves
  • Newspaper
  • Wood chips
  • Fruit scraps
  • Sawdust
  • Straw

Greens

We also need to add greens to the compost. These amendments are higher in nitrogen.

  • Grass clippings
  • Garden waste, including the weeds
  • Food scraps (don't introduce any type of meat or fish to the compost - these can attract rodents and pests)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Manure
  • Hay

What Ratio of Browns to Greens Should You Use?

When we initially build the compost pile, we use a 3o:1 ratio of browns to greens. The greens are what create the heat in the compost and encourage organic breakdown, so you can adjust the ratio according to how hot your pile is. But don't stress over your ratios - if you do you'll give up on composting altogether!  You can easily tweak and adjust based on how your composts looks, feels and smells.

One thing to note is when there are more greens added to the pile there may be a bit of an odour. If you've ever left freshly cut grass in the bag for a few days you'll know what that smell is. Another thing to note is the smaller the bits and pieces are, the quicker they break down. Take the time to chop everything into smaller bits to help speed up the process.

An active pile can get hot. Ideally we hope to reach an internal pile temperature of 160° F, which is adequate to kill off any weed seeds the compost pile may contain. After the first few weeks, bacteria in the pile start to die off and the pile begins to cool. At this time you need to turn the pile to feed air back in so that bacteria can continue to break down your compost and raise the temperature of the pile.

The base for the compost pile should consist of a layer of twigs to create air flow to the bottom of the pile. When layering the amendments, you want them to be moist but not wet. You may need to dampen each layer lightly with the garden hose if it's very hot and dry. As the weeks go by, turn the pile often, adding water if it looks to be dry. You want the layers to keep a bit moist but not saturated. The more you turn the pile, the more air you're adding and the quicker it will break down the organic material and become finished compost.

No matter which method you use to compost, always use the same ratio for amendments. Continue to add browns and greens throughout the entire year.


Composting Options

The composter option you choose to use will depend on the amount of space you have and the time you can put in to maintaining it. Space is often at a premium in urban and suburban settings and you want to ensure you choose a composting option you can maintain so that you don't encourage pests - you don't want to be that neighbour! (Don't compost meat, fish, dairy or cooking fats in your garden - put those in your Green Bin for collection if that's an option where you live)

RELATED:  Grow Your Own Food: Know Your Canadian Gardening Zone

Tumble Composter

Tumble Composter

You may have seen tumble composters in gardening magazines or perhaps online. They're often barrel-shaped containers that are usually elevated off the ground and can be externally rotated. They can have aeration holes or not, though some holes for air movement are preferred as air flow is very important in the composting process.

Rotate the barrel composter three to four times a week to mix the amendments and aerate. There's minimal work required — tumble composting is the least labour-intensive method of creating compost. Use a light hand when adding water to the composter as you don't want it, or the amendments, to be too wet.

  • You can buy tumble composters in store or online, or if you love a good project by all means construct your own.

The Multi-Stall Open Bin Method

The multi-stall, open bin method is a great option when you have more room to work with. The open bin method consists of a three-walled structure with the top, front and bottom open.

In the three-stall system, the first stall is used to collect extra amendments. The centre stall is the active compost pile and the third stall is where you store the finished compost. This method is great as it keeps everything contained yet gives you some excellent working space to turn the pile.

  • You can make as many stalls as needed and even just a single stall is a great option. You often see a three-stall open bin compost station, usually built with pallets. They're a good height, are easy to nail or wire together and super easy to find.

The Piling Method

Rural Compost Pile

Though not neat and tidy like the previous methods, this one is simple and easy. It's not a pretty setup, so if that's a concern be sure to place it in a hidden location. Keep it moist and turn numerous times a week.

  • You simply create a free form pile of organic material and use a pitch fork to turn it.

Closed Bin Composting

Closed Bin Composter

Closed bin composters were some of the first composters on the market about 20 years ago and these are the composters most cities will sell at a heavily discounted price to locals. Although they look nice in the yard, they're not the easiest of options when it comes to composting. However they're a great choice for urban and suburban gardens where space is a challenge and where pest control is extremely important.

You need a special compost aerating tool made to turn the compost in such tight quarters. Once the compost is ready you remove it from a door at the bottom of the bin. This is for those who are interested in small scale composting.  As with the other methods be sure to start off with twigs as your base and layer with your browns and greens, being sure to keep the layers moist.

Using Your Compost

You now have some great options of various composting methods gardeners use. I hope you can find a way to implement composting in your yard and garden that's right for your garden.

Stockpile your finished compost and start adding it to your flower beds and gardens. Because it's so nutrient rich, you only need to side dress the flowers and vegetables with the finished material. It's a slow release fertilizer so you don't need to use a lot of it. You can also add it the soil in any containers or pots you grow in.

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This site is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for the site to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites.


Grow Your Own Food is written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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