Compost is considered black gold for gardners. We buy large quantities every year to try and amend our soil and make it more suitable for growing food. Compost is also a great way to get rid of food and yard scraps and “recycle” them back into good nutrients for the soil.
Back in 2017, Allyson and I started our composting journey, mostly as a way to reduce our food waste. We bought a vermicompost box at that time. Vermicompost is made by putting food scraps into a bin with worms, typically red wigglers. Unfortunately, our first foray into vermicomposting resulted in a large number of fruit flies in the small apartment we were renting at the time.
Luckily, we bought a home shortly after and had space to make a large compost pile outside. The vermicompost still lives on, but we put way less food in it now. This helps prevent flies, since the worms can keep up with our food waste now. Pretty quickly after moving into our new house, I used pieces of our old shed to build a two-sided compost bin.
We dutifully put our food scraps (minus meat products) into one side of the bin until it got about 3’ high, and then switched to the other one. Allyson added a bunch of yard waste from gardening and cleaning up our old yard. Beyond that though, we didn’t really do anything to help the composting work.
Somehow, our compost pile does get smaller consistently, and we still don’t generate enough waste to overflow our bins. But, in the past 2 years or so we haven’t gotten any compost to use. Some of that time was spent building up the piles large enough that they could begin composting, but I think the main reason we don’t have usable compost is that we haven’t done some of the items that almost everyone recommends for home composting.
From what I can tell, there are a few key items to make home composting more efficient. One is the mix of brown (yard waste) and green (kitchen scraps) in the pile. We don’t really pay attention to this, but the ideal mixture is 2 parts brown to 1 part green. It would be more work than I’m willing to do to try and balance this mixture perfectly, so for now we ignore it and dump everything in there.
Another key item is to turn the compost occasionally. This mixes the pile around and allows the outside materials to mix into the middle, where the majority of the composting occurs. We really didn’t do much of this last summer, which was the first summer we had a large enough pile of scraps to turn over. In order to help get us some of that black gold, and hopefully reduce the amount of compost we have to buy every year, I’m going to focus on turning the pile much more this year. Right now I’m shooting for at least once per week.
The last item that seems to be key for composting is moisture content. I don’t know if you have heard, but high deserts typically don’t get a ton of rain. Denver is extremely dry and so is our compost pile, since I haven’t taken the time to water it as much as I should. So every time I turn the pile this year, I am going to make sure to water the compost as I put it back into place. The goal is to be able to grab a handful of the pile and squeeze out just a single drop of water. Since we’ve started composting, I’ve never seen the pile look anything but bone dry.
By being more active with the compost this year, mainly turning and watering it weekly, I’m hopeful we can actually use some compost of our own next spring for planting.