Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Recipe for Compost

A Recipe for Compost

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Use a mulching mower or reversible leaf blower to shred Fall leaves, save them in bags or bins, add them to your kitchen scraps to create nutritious soil.

Please enjoy this post from several years ago--relevant now more than ever!

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I've added a gardening tip here and there over the past few years, but I've always included a recipe for a food that uses whatever vegetable or herb I've been discussing.

Today's post is a little different. I feel strongly that an appreciation of fresh food leads invariably, inevitably, inexorably back to the source: where your food comes from.

More folks getting interested in fresh local food means more folks trying their hands at growing some portion of it.

Maybe it's a windowsill with some herb pots in an apartment, or maybe it's rotation planting of your annual garlic and basil crops in raised beds.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to make your gardening efforts succeed is to make compost. 

Adding compost to your garden accomplishes the following:
  • compost reduces weed growth
  • compost decreases the amount of water your plants need
  • compost nourishes your soil by replacing nutrients lost in production
Compost does not:
  • smell bad--if everything is working correctly it smells like earth
  • attract animals or bugs--composting the proper items (see below) and covering the scraps with leaves discourages annoying bugs (flies) while allowing the decomposers to work
Just like breast milk has a whole host of goodies that cannot be replicated in a factory, homemade compost--with its microscopic and visible critters--provides so much more to your garden than a bag of topsoil from the store. It's alive.   [I just compared compost to breast milk. Whoa.]    It's nearly as easy to make, in my opinion as both a woman-who-has-lactated and a gardener who makes compost. To make breast milk you need boobs, hormones, protein and water. To make compost you need some shredded leaves and some kitchen scraps.
Where do you get kitchen scraps?

We've enjoyed a variety of CSA farm shares, from the no frills (the vegetable is plucked from the field and placed in a crate where it sits untouched until I reach into the crate on pick up day) to the tidy waxed box (with my name on it) filled with cleaned, bagged items.  Regardless how cleaned/washed your produce is, unless you're buying it off the the salad bar you will have unwanted bits.

You'll need to do something about those bits.  Sure, you can toss them in the trash, or grind them in the disposal. I've got suggestions for reusing vegetable scraps, and of course there are composting pigs and turtles, but a great way to process them is to compost them.

Just like with sautéing, smaller pieces finish faster. Chop up large scraps into smaller pieces.
sorry for the freaky eyes, she loves her celery
Setting up a compost bin can be very low-cost.

You'll need a place in the kitchen to collect scraps and a place outside to let the scraps decompose.  [If you don't have space outside, you can even compost on the floor of your closet, using worms, but that's another post.]  I have 2 outdoor compost bins--one covered and one open.  I got the covered one free after taking a series of composting classes through my local parks and recreation department.

What if you don't have space for a pile? You can make compost lasagna in a raised garden bed.

After your garden has had its seasonal run, shovel off a layer of soil and set it aside.  Fill the garden bed with layers of kitchen scraps, shredded leaves, coffee grounds until the bed is nearly full. Top with the reserved soil.
Over the winter the materials will decompose in place. You can tell in the Spring because the soil level will be lower--but it's not compacted, it's easier to dig when you're planting your new crops.

Once you have a place to compost, get layering.

I layer kitchen waste with shredded leaves that we save each Fall.  I was a bit exuberant with the leaves and still have some left over, but I'd rather have too much than too little.  Story of my pantry (but not my house!).  A good ratio to aim for is equal amounts, by weight, of kitchen scraps and leaves.

Since the leaves are far lighter than my tea bags, cantaloupe rinds, coffee grounds and corn husks, the volume of leaves is much larger than the volume of kitchen scraps.  I use about 3 parts leaves to one part kitchen scraps.

I have my minions children dump several bucketsful of kitchen scraps, enough to cover the surface about an inch deep.  Then I dump a bag of leaves, enough to cover the surface about 3 inches deep. Then more scraps, then leaves.

Need more scraps? Ask at local coffee shops if they give away Grounds for Gardeners.
Not a stir fry.  My compost bin in July.
Do include crushed eggshells in your kitchen scraps.

The calcium helps your tomato plants, and the worms who will migrate to your pile will take bites of the shell to help them grind up their meal.

Don't include meat, dairy, or most animal wastes.  I say most, because the manure from vegetable-eating animals, such as horses or cows, is widely considered to be great for compost.  Aged manure, that is--fresh manure is too hot (it requires nitrogen to break down, instead of providing nitrogen to your garden).  In my opinion, my composting pig falls in this category as well.  I use the bedding (hay, pig poop, and whatever scraps they don't eat) in my compost bin.

Once you've layered your unwanted bits and your leaves, and watered it or let the rain fall directly on it, and stirred it occasionally to bring the decomposed stuff--and the decomposers themselves--up from the bottom to work on the newest stuff, your compost will begin to look uniform and soil-like.  Time to spread it on your garden and start a new batch.
Just 3 visible ingredients--kitchen scraps, water, and shredded leaves. The air and time are implied.

image of a pile of compost

I've learned about composting from my parents, fellow gardeners, and by listening to You Bet Your Garden with Mike McGrath on the radio. I enjoy the program so much I donated to WYSO to get a copy of Mike McGrath's Book of Compost (Amazon affiliate link), a terrific resource.
My Daddy--working hard.

After I first published this post, I had my visiting parents review and suggest edits--it's been Gardener Approved.


  1. This is great, and you'll be happy to know I added a bunch of dried out lily leaves and other garden greens which were done and expired. I'm still waiting for all the leaves to fall, but I'm ready for them when they come. I will also compost right into my raised bed after reading this so you taught me something new here too. Thanks much!

  2. this was so helpful. just know that i used your info for a school project and got a good grade

  3. Thanks for the useful tips on composting. I am still learning and even though I got limited space within my condominium unit to have an extensive planting experience, I have quite a good result in growing some of my vegetable needs. You detailed writeup is really good. Thanks

    1. Hi Unknown!
      Hooray for your vegetable growing success.
      Glad I could help with your composting!

  4. I don't have room in my garden but I back on to a wood. I'm going to set up an illicit compost pile directly behind my property and hope I don't get accused of flu tipping 😂

  5. Can I compost flowers my Hubby brings home to me from Grocery Store or flower shops?

    1. Hi Unknown!
      I do put the flowers from the grocery store and farmer's market into my compost bin or onto my brush pile. I've seen bees buzzing around them on the brush pile--I figure I get to enjoy them inside and then the wildlife gets to enjoy them after that.