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Slow and Easy Compost

This method goes back to the earliest days of composting. If you have the space and are not in a hurry, or if you just want to try composting without a lot of investment, this is the method is for you.

It doesn't matter when you start your compost pile, composting goes on year round. How fast the organic materials will decompose  will  vary with the time of year and where you live. When temperatures are warmer, the process will accelerate and when temperatures are colder the process will slow down. If you live in an area with extreme cold, you may want to build a wind break or cover the compost pile.

Find an appropriate place, level and well-drained ground in either sun or shade, to build a simple pile. A good size to start with is about 3 or 4 foot square. You want to be able to reach the center of the pile easily. Hex netting, commonly called chicken wire, made of either metal or vinyl can be used to make a simple inexpensive bin. Landscape timbers around the base of the pile is another means of containing the compost pile and keeping it neat.

Form a base for the pile by using heavier materials such as tree branches or brush. These will allow for drainage and aeration. Additional aeration can be obtained by forming chicken wire into a tube  and standing it in the center of the pile.

For the pile to function the best, you will need a mixture of what are known as green and brown materials. 'Green' material comes from plants that are still growing such as grass. 'Brown' material comes from plants that have begun to breakdown such as leaves. You can use only brown material if you like, but the addition of green materials will speed up the process. When adding materials, be sure to mix them throughly and never use only grass clippings, they'll just kind of melt down into a green stinky mess. Many people will gather their neighbors' bags of leaves in the fall and mix them with their grass clippings through the summer. Coffee grounds are great for composting and most of the major coffee shops will gladly give them away.

As you add material, add moisture at the same time and keep it damp throughout the year. Moisture is one of the requirements for proper composting, but you don't want the pile wet either. If you have built your pile correctly, the drainage you built in the bottom of the pile should allow for rain to exit the pile and maintain the proper moisture level.

Materials you don't want to add to your compost pile are many.  Oils, dairy products, meat, and processed foods can all produce odors and draw pests. Weeds with seeds or plants infected with disease will only contaminate the finished compost and as the compost is used spread throughout the garden. Dog and cat wastes can contain pathogens that will not be broken down by normal composting.

Turning the pile, a pitchfork is great for this, will aerate the pile and speed to composting. How often you turn the pile is up to you. If you are impatient you may turn it weekly or monthly. If you are laid back, you may only turn it once or twice a year. Regardless of how often you turn it, in 6 to 12 months you should have compost. You can tell it is ready to use when it is dark brown, crumbly and will be surprisingly sweet smelling. 

Your finished compost will have many uses. It is a great amendment for preparing a new bed. You can place it around the base of shrubs and roses. You can use it as side dressing (placed along side the bed) or as a top dressing (placed on top of the bed). No matter how you use it, you garden will love it.