How to Make your own Vegetable Garden Compost


vegetable garden compost

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. You can turn your food scraps and yard waste into “black gold” that will feed your plants and improve your soil.

Some common misconceptions of home composting are that it’s too complicated, it’ll smell funny, and it’s messy. These are all true if you compost the wrong way. Luckily, composting the right way is quite simple: Just layer organic materials and a dash of soil to create a concoction that turns into humus (the best soil booster around!). You can then improve your flower garden with compost, top dress your lawn, feed your growing veggies, and more. Once you get your compost pile started, you’ll find that it’s an easy way to repurpose kitchen scraps and other organic materials into something that can help keep your plants thriving.

What to Compost

A close up of a flower garden

Composting is a great way to use the things in your refrigerator that are a little past their prime, therefore eliminating waste. Keeping a container in your kitchen, like this white ceramic compost bucket ($20, World Market), is an easy way to accumulate your composting materials. If you don’t want to buy one, you can make your own indoor or outdoor compost bin. Collect these materials to start off your compost pile right:

  • Fruit scraps
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells (though they can take a while to break down)
  • Grass and plant clippings
  • Dry leaves
  • Finely chopped wood and bark chips
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Straw
  • Sawdust from untreated wood

What NOT to Compost

A pile of carrots sitting on top of a grass covered field

Not only will these items cause problems in your garden, but they also can make your compost smell bad and attract animals and pests. Avoid these items for a successful compost pile:

  • Anything containing meat, oil, fat, or grease
  • Diseased plant materials
  • Sawdust or chips from pressure-treated wood
  • Dog or cat feces
  • Weeds that go to seed
  • Dairy products

How to Make Hot Compost

Step 1: Combine Green and Brown Materials

To make your own hot-compost heap, wait until you have enough materials to make a pile at least 3 feet deep. You are going to want to combine your wet, green items with your dry, brown items. “Brown” materials include dried plant materials; fallen leaves; shredded tree branches, cardboard, or newspaper; hay or straw; and wood shavings, which add carbon. “Green” materials include kitchen scraps and coffee grounds, animal manures (not from dogs or cats), and fresh plant and grass trimmings, which add nitrogen. For best results, start building your compost pile by mixing three parts brown with one part green materials.  If your compost pile looks too wet and smells, add more brown items or aerate more often. If you see it looks extremely brown and dry, add green items and water to make it slightly moist.

Step 2: Water Your Pile

Sprinkle water over the pile regularly so it has the consistency of a damp sponge. Don’t add too much water, otherwise, the microorganisms in your pile will become waterlogged and drown. If this happens, your pile will rot instead of compost. Monitor the temperature of your pile with a thermometer to be sure the materials are properly decomposing. Or, simply reach into the middle of the pile with your hand. Your compost pile should feel warm.

Step 3: Stir Up Your Pile

During the growing season, you should provide the pile with oxygen by turning it once a week with a garden fork. The best time to turn the compost is when the center of the pile feels warm or when a thermometer reads between 130 and 150°F. Stirring up the pile will help it cook faster and prevents material from becoming matted down and developing an odor. At this point, the layers have served their purpose of creating equal amounts of green and brown materials throughout the pile, so stir thoroughly.

Step 4: Feed Your Garden

When the compost no longer gives off heat and becomes dry, brown, and crumbly, it’s fully cooked and ready to feed to the garden. Add about 4 to 6 inches of compost to your flower beds and into your pots at the beginning of each planting season.

Some gardeners make what’s known as compost tea with finished compost. This involves allowing fully formed compost to “steep” in water for several days, then straining it to use as a homemade liquid fertilizer.

Every gardener is different, so it’s up to you to decide which composting method best fits your lifestyle. Fortunately, no matter which route you choose, compost is incredibly easy to make and environmentally friendly. Plus, it’s a treat for your garden. With just a few kitchen scraps and some patience, you’ll have the happiest garden possible.

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