A lot of people think that making compost at home is difficult, this is far from the truth, with some imagination and creativity you can easily make your own compost. Most people who have an off-grid garden make their own compost, especially in areas where the soil isn’t rich enough to grow compost. The compost will boost the growth rate of your crops and will contain all the essential nutrients for the plants to grow.
The main reason why people fail with their compost is that they do not use the right stuff for composting. You might think that all you need is kitchen scraps, the truth is that you will have to add other items as well like green leaves, water, and so on. People who live in a homestead are used to cook their food from scratch, and the leftovers from this type of cooking are excellent for making good and high-quality compost.
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The problem is that a lot of people eat pre-packaged meals and other types of foods that have been treated with chemicals and preservatives. Once you add these types of food items to your compost these will actually slow down the composting process as the chemicals and preservatives in them will slow the process down significantly. Your main goal with compost is to make it as nutrient-rich as possible, as this will allow your plants to grow tall and strong.
There are a lot of products which are labeled bio, and packages which are biodegradable, this doesn’t mean that they will be good material for a compost, it just means that they will be broken down with time but they do not actually offer any nutrients to the compost. If you are living off the grid in a forest then it is vital to make compost as the soil in such areas is not ideal for growing crops, for more information check out my recent article How to live off the grid in the woods? ( In 15 Steps ).
Step 1. Find a place for your compost
A lot of people make the big mistake of simply putting their compost in a corner of their garden, and then they wonder why their compost is smelling or why it isn’t breaking down the kitchen scraps. You should place your compost in a place where it gets plenty of sunlight, just think of the compost as a small garden, as it needs direct sunlight and plenty of water. Not a lot of people do clear the area where they place the compost, although my personal recommendation is to clear the area out from weeds and even grass.
If you place your compost on top of weeds and grass then these will start absorbing the nutrients from your compost, and in a couple of weeks, you will see a lot of weeds and grass sprouting up around your compost. If you do not want to clear out the area, then simply put down a couple of garbage bags and place the compost on top of them, this way the nutrients will not be absorbed by the ground. If you need more information about off grid living then check out my recent article Off grid living in Indiana ( The Hoosier State ).
Step 2. Choose a container for the compost
When it comes to containers you have basically two options, a composting bin or just placing the compost on the ground without a container. Both methods work fine, although how efficient they will be, depends on your geographical location. In areas where the climate is fairly dry then you should probably use a composting bin, in all other areas you should be fine without a composting bin.
The main reason why a lot of people use composting bins is that once these are covered up they do not smell, and they will not attract rodents. I personally do not use a composting bin as it is fairly hard to aerate it and as the compost does not have direct sunlight it will start to rot, rather than slowly decay. This is why so many people are complaining that their compost bin smells during the summertime, everything is rotting inside which means that the valuable nutrients are being used by the bacteria and fungi. If you are wondering if you can use grass clippings around your trees then check out my recent article Grass Clippings Around Trees ( Top 5 Do’s ).
Step 3. Green composting materials
A good compost needs nitrogen, carbon, water, and air if you have all these ingredients then you will have no problem making your compost. The problem is that if you fail to add one of these ingredients or you add too much of it then you will hinder the natural decay of your compost. You can find a lot of online gardening shops selling these ingredients in small bags, you can get a couple although it is not necessary, I personally have never used them in my life.
The green composting materials will add valuable nutrients to your compost, basically, almost any plant which is not yet dried out or gone bad is good for this. The microorganisms will come from the brown composting materials and they will break down your green composting material. You can actually make extremely good compost and mulch with grass clippings for more information check out my recent article Grass Clippings As Mulch Pros And Cons ( Top 16 Pros and Cons ).
What to add:
- Green leaves
- Grass clippings
- Organic food scraps
- Manure ( only from herbivores )
What not to add:
- Grass with roots
- Rotten fruits
- Roten vegetables
- Treated wood
- Food items which have a lot of chemicals
Step 4. Brown composting materials
The brown composting materials are the ones that have already started the decaying process and have all the vital microorganisms to break them down. Generally speaking, any type of plant matter will do as long it is already brown and dead.
- Dried leaves
- Dried grass
- Dried plants
- Small twigs
Step 5. Mixing the compost
Some people mix the entire compost both with the green and brown composting materials, while others layer them out. My recommendation is to mix the two composting materials together, this way the actual composting will start a lot sooner. For mixing the compost you don’t need some specialized tool, you can do it by hand or you can use a garden fork. Make sure to mix both the green and brown composting materials together as well as you can. If you want to know how you can make money while living off the grid then check out my recent article How do off gridders make money? ( Top 34 Ways ).
Step 6. Build the compost
If you are not using a compost bin then place some twigs and green leaves on the ground, you will need a couple of inches of twigs as this way the compost will get ventilated from below. As the compost will break down the twigs will not be able to ventilate it so you will have to aerate it once in a while. After you placed down the twigs and green leaves then it is time to place your compost on top of it.
Step 7. Add water to the compost
There is a delicate balance on how much water you should add to the compost if you add too little then the composting process will be extremely slow if you add too much then the composting materials will start to rot and ruin the compost. In addition to rotting if you add too much water, you will notice that your compost will also smell. Water the compost just like you would water a plant, the excess water will flow out from the bottom where you have placed the twigs.
Step 8. Add soil to the compost
After you have added the compost it is time to cover it with soil, a couple of inches of soil on top of the compost will be enough. Your main goal with adding the soil is to keep the heat generated by the compost trapped inside. Make sure while you are building the compost that the weather is dry if it rains then the excess water could make your compost rot and attract unwanted pests. The same goes for the soil, make sure it is nice and dry.
Step 9. Aerating the compost
Composting needs some maintenance like watering and aerating, as the compost is decaying the microorganisms will use up a lot of oxygen. Once a week grab your garden fork and stir up your compost. If you have a thermometer then check the inside temperature of the compost if it is between 120-150F then it is time to stir the compost. Do note that while you are stringing up your compost it will release a lot of gas from the decaying process and it will smell bad for a couple of days.
If it is raining outside then do not aerate your compost as the excess water will infiltrate the compost and it will make it smell a lot worse and possibly ruin the entire compost.
Step 10. Watering the compost
As for how often you should water your compost depends on the local climate, generally speaking in arid climates you will have to water it more often than in humid climates. There is no set rule on how often you have to water your compost, but what you can do is to check the humidity. Put your finger inside the compost and if the compost is moist, not soggy or wet then you don’t need to water it if it is dry then sprinkle it with some water.
Step 11. Know when the compost is ready
On average it will take around 3 months for the compost to be ready for use, although in some cases it will take longer or shorter depending on the local climate and how you actually maintained the compost. One good sign that your compost is healthy is when you stir it up you will see a lot of red worms, and the compost is actually giving off heat which you can see in the morning. In some cases, the compost can take even a year to be ready, mostly because of faulty maintenance.
After 3 months you will notice that your compost will no longer dissipate heat as much and the inside is getting dry, at this point, you can use your compost for your garden. Grab the compost and spread it around your plants, 3-8 inches will be enough although this also depends on what kind of plants you are growing.
Step 12. Things to avoid while making the compost
A lot of people will tell you to add paper and cardboard, as these are mostly made out of cellulose, the same stuff as wood is but the truth is that microorganisms have a fairly hard time breaking these down. After the 3 months, you will see that most of the cardboard and the paper is still intact. If you have a problem with rodents in your local area then making compost might attract them, so in this case, make sure you use a composting bin.
A lot of people do add all the scraps from the kitchen, this is not a good idea, the bones will not be broken down and the meat will sooner or later start to rot. This rotten meat will attract mice and rats, or even larger predators. In addition to this some kitchen scraps will make your compost smell, I mean the smell can get so bad on some days that you can not stand near it. Sugar in high concentration can act as a preservative, so try to avoid food items that have a lot of sugar in them.
In addition to this, you should also avoid adding fat and oil to the compost, as this will simply stop the decaying process and will only slow down the progress of your compost. Do not make more compost than you can use, the more compost you add to your garden doesn’t necessarily mean that your plants will grow faster.
Some would say that making good compost is an art, and I strongly agree with this. Every compost will be different, the more of them you make the more you learn with each process. Odds are that if you are making your compost for the first time is that you will fail, and this is normal. It takes a lot of knowledge to make a good compost, and the more you know about the local climate, the easier it will be for you to make the compost.