Organic Composting 101 - Making Compost That's More Nutritious

Organic Composting 101

Welcome to organic composting 101.

This isn't just a way to turn organic waste into nice dirt – organic compost is actually one of the most valuable things we grow in the garden.

What is organic compost?

It just means we're making compost from organic materials, without any added chemicals or genetically-modified ingredients or manure from animals that have received drugs, etc.

Since compost is a complex community of living organisms, we really are growing it, just like we grow peas or lettuce or dahlias.

There are different organic composting methods and lots of details that can help you fine tune when you're making compost, but the basics are really quite simple...

Organic Composting Ingredients – Don'ts

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Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com. If you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com.

Today we are talking about organic composting and we are going to be making some compost together. The reason I love compost so much is what it does for my garden. It’s kind of behind these trees here and that is to bring in fertility and organic matter and beneficial microorganisms and insects and a whole host of benefits to the garden. Now we are doing organic composting today and all that really means to me is that we are using organic materials. No genetically modified materials, well now you can spike it with any chemicals.

We are not going to use maneuver from animals that receive a whole lot of antibiotics and hormones and things like that. We are going to try to keep it clean. In terms of materials you don’t want to use ,I have a few around here, one would be anything that’s toxic such as this paper. If you could have this kind of colored paper, it really has a lot of toxins in it, anything that you might think of being toxic you probably don’t want to put in there.

You can put most weeds into the compost they will be taking care of no problem, there are a few like this quack grass or bind weed or others that really spread that you really don’t want to take the chance that they are going to be put all throughout your garden when you spread your compost. Leave them now put other weeds in, some people are pretty nervous about using dog or cat maneuver, personally I have no problem with using a bit of it. I am not going to get into more detail on that today. It is kind of a controversial topic but I have no problem with a tiny amount of that stuff in there likewise you can use your own human maneuver and urine in a compost pile.

They are great nutritionally, they are great to divert from this sour system. You can put meat and other animal products in there but it will sometimes attract like skunks and raccoons and things like that, so a lot of people don’t use them in the compost. If you thing that you could attract even just put your food scraps, rat source, skunks and raccoons and things like that. What again you want to do is build a bin that doesn’t let them in, that’s getting the talking about some ingredients we can use. Now you may have heard compost ingredients to be discussed as greens versus browns and that doesn’t really refer to the color of the necessarily, although sometimes it does.

What it really refers to is greens means more nitrogen rich materials and brown means more carbon rich materials and we are trying to balance out those two nutrients, those two elements in the compost pile. So greens means things like maneuver, I don’t have any maneuver today, I don’t tend to use it all that much in the compost pile but that is one that is more of nitrogen source, especially when you get down to the bird maneuver like chicken maneuver.

Another one is fresh grass clippings or weeds that you might have picked that contain more nitrogen. Young plants, especially tentative have more nitrogen and as they get older they become more carbon rich, food scraps are another one, they tend to be all over the map for their carbon to nitrogen ratio but we tend to think of them a little bit more than nitrogen, now I want your raw material as your carbon rich materials, for me what are main ones is straw or you can use hay too, hay has a little bit more weed seeds but that can be okay, that’s a really good one. Leaves are great carbon source and nice nutrition source too. I like to put them in the compost obviously in the fall and the n I don’t tend to use it much but if you do have some saw dust or some wood scraps, they can make nice carbon component of the compost pile suite there, very high in carbons.

They need to be balanced it with a lot of nitrogen but that’s okay, now you can just take one kind of nitrogen and one kind of carbon source and mix them together and that’s fine but I do like to get a diversity if possible because the more different sources I am bringing in, the more different microorganisms I am bringing in and different nutrients I am bringing in and generally I am going to get a nice or more diverse compost pile. When it comes to mixing these things together, a general simple rule for composting 101 is to try to get 2 to 4 times as much brown carbon materials as green nitrogen materials and so really that just keeps it simple, you can get a lot more technical and mathematical about it but that’s an easy way to go about it.

Let’s get into how to make organic compost and we get into my bin here, you can see I have out of palettes because that’s the free and very easy way to do it, I just tie them together with a little bit of rope, you don’t even need a bandage just keep things a little bit tight here in terms of size this is about the minimum I would go with which is about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet tall and then I go up to a size of about 5 feet by 5 feet 5 feet. I have actually been leaning a little more to larger size as recently because it helps to get the pile harder. What happens if the pile is too small if it’s much smaller than 3 by 3 by 3 it’s not going to be able to heat up and I think heating up is what allows the composting process to happen and it also kills weed seeds and pathogens.

So we want to get some heat going in there, on the other hand if your pile gets too big and there is not enough air getting into the middle and we want air to be outflow with the pile because we are trying to make aerobic compost because we are trying to get aerobic air breathing microorganism. The way to make sure that you have enough air in the pile and the pile stays nice and hard and that all of the materials get into the middle of the pile is to turn the piles, that’s what I am going to do right now. So you can see it starts to look a little more like compost when I get down to the bottom of my pile but for me it doesn’t look entirely like compost because I put in things like this big stocks of corn or tomatoes.

First of all I would like to recycle them but it also helps keep it more aerated as well. So at the end of the process, eventually they will break down but by the time I am ready to use the compost, there still going to be in there and will have to strain them out but it adds more air. So for this turning of compost what a lot of people will do is they will have two or three bins in alternative from one bin into another. I just keep it simple with one band and so I turn my compost out, turned your back in and kind of mix it in a little differently and then make sure that everything is getting a chance to be in the middle of the pile and it introduces a lot of air in there too.

That’s for how often you turn that kind of depends on what your goals are, if you want compost that has done really fast like as little as a few weeks, you can chop up all your materials really small, make your pile and then turn it every 3 to 7 days, what I like to do is just turn my compost pile a couple of times throughout the growing season, when I do that it may take 8 months for it to get done but it’s going to save me a lot of work and a lot of time and it’s going to retain more nutrition because every time you turn a pile and get more air in there, it gets the metabolism going faster and it gets breaking down more and off casing more, I would like to retain more nutrition, retain more fungi and beneficial organisms.

So now I am going to start turning my materials back in. So that’s how I like to water every time I build or turn a compost pile whenever I am shelving materials into the pile there always getting water, so I make sure I have a lot of moisture in there. So that’s it for organic composting 101. If you have any questions leave them down below and I will answer them. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below. You can join me and my sister over on Facebook at facebook.com/smilinggardener or me over on YouTube at youtube.com/gardenersmiling. I request you, just to keeping on your toes there.

Generally speaking, almost anything that was once alive can go in when making a compost bin.

Though you probably want to avoid large amounts of meat, too much dog and cat waste, and obviously anything toxic.

I avoid pernicious weeds like quack grass and bindweed, which might survive the organic composting process and spread around my garden. Other weeds are okay.

You might also want to think about whether there are any large critters in your area who would enjoy eating your compost pile (rats, raccoons, bears...), and either avoid putting in materials that will attract them or build a bin they can't get into.

When making compost, I don't use genetically modified materials, because those pesky little genes, once transplanted into a different organism from the one they started in, tend to feel restless in their new home and are more likely to jump ship and find their way into other organisms in your garden...

Organic Compost Ingredients – Yes, please!

The basic organic composting ingredients are plants (such as leaves, weeds, grass clippings, and straw), manure, and food scraps.

You may have heard talk about "greens" and "browns." This refers to the relative proportions of carbon and nitrogen in each material, not to their actual color.

"Greens" are relatively higher in nitrogen, like horse manure or especially other manures such as chicken manure (even though they're brown!), fresh grass clippings, seaweed, and kitchen scraps.

"Browns" are higher in carbon, like straw/hay, leaves and sawdust or wood chips.

Plant materials fall in different places along this spectrum. You can find tables online, although they don't all agree with each other.

Higher-nitrogen materials tend to be softer and more pliable, while higher-carbon materials feel more stiff and woody.

You want a ratio of somewhere between 2:1 and 4:1 browns to greens, by volume. Too much carbon, and your organic compost will be slow; too much nitrogen, and it risks getting anaerobic, smelly, or even too hot.

The more diverse your feedstock, the more diverse the nutrients and microbes will be in your finished compost...

Composting 101 - How To Make Organic Compost

Finished Organic Compost

For a nice hot compost pile, the ideal size is between 3'x3'x3' and 5'x5'x5'. I'm leaning a little more to the bigger side these days.

Too small and it won't get hot enough, so weed seeds won't be killed. Too big and the center won't get enough air to keep the process aerobic.

The main way to get air into your compost pile is to turn it.

You can do this as soon as the compost cools down after a week or so, or you can turn it once or twice a season, depending how your desire for fast organic compost and burly shoulder muscles balances with your basic human laziness.

Making compost that stays hot by turning it often can be done in as little as a few weeks if you've found a way to chop up all your materials into small pieces.

But I usually like to turn it just a couple of times throughout the season even if it takes 8 months to finish, because in addition to the fact that it's less work, it retains more nutrients that way.

It depends what your goals are. Turning more often keeps it hotter and hence faster, while leaving it alone allows it to generate more humates and off-gas fewer nutrients, and it encourages more diverse beneficial microbes.

The next step for how to compost is to get the right moisture level. The cliché is "as wet as a wrung-out sponge."

If your materials are dry when you're building it, you'll want to water the layers as you go. Then you can put a tarp over it once the ingredients are all in, or just top it with a layer of straw to keep moisture in or out as needed. In summer you may need to water it a few times.

Don't be surprised if your beautiful compost pile shrinks down to as little as a third of its original size.

That's just the microbes doing their job, turning your waste materials into an alchemical elixir that keeps your garden healthy and thriving.


What did I miss? Ask me your organic composting 101 questions or upload a photo of your compost bin down below in the comments so people can get some ideas (when you click into the 'reply' box, there's a little icon that shows up inside that box which allows you to upload images).

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