Composting Made Easy: Turning Leaves & Debris into Nutrient-rich Soil Amendments

Vego Garden
Vego Garden

Fall is a good time for composting because there is an abundance of leaf piles and fallen detritus. Often, the sole recollection of composting comes from school compost bins, which have a tendency to smell. But composting doesn’t have to be burdensome and off-putting. When done properly, it can be hassle-free and even fun. Composting mainly falls into two categories: hot composting and cold composting. 

Hot Composting: Hot composting is a faster, more managed composting process. It relies on a careful balance of high carbon and high nitrogen materials – 2 parts carbon and 1 part nitrogen. The consistency should be similar to that of a wrung-out sponge, which can be accomplished with a variety of materials such as leaves, food waste and grass clippings. . 

Cold Composting: Cold composting is what most people think composting entails: a passive method that requires minimal effort but can take one or two years before the compost becomes usable. Materials are left in a pile to break down naturally. While not labor intensive, the results can be less consistent. 


Simplest Composting Methods

Below are a few simple and effective composting methods that make composting feasible to all. 

Vermicomposting: Vermicomposting with worms is a great way to transform unwanted food scraps into high-quality soil amendments to bolster soil fertility. Vego’s in-ground composters eliminates the hassle of traditional composting systems, including bad odors and the trouble of turning it. Designed to be buried within your Vego Garden Raised Bed, this worm composter contains small holes on its sides, which reduce odor and improve ventilation, encouraging odorless microbes to aid in soil decomposition. 

The result is an efficient, odorless process that produces nitrogen-rich compost that contains numerous beneficial nutrients and microorganisms. Simply add in worms, throw in food scraps from your kitchen, and leave it alone. With rolling planters supplemented with  earthworms, you can even compost on a patio. 

Dig and Drop Composting: You can’t get any simpler with dig and drop composting, which is exactly as it sounds. Considered a simpler form of trench composting, dig and drop composting involves digging a hole, dropping kitchen scraps or grass clippings, then covering it with soil. It is an easy way to turn a dull spot into a nurturing area filled with soft soil and works with almost any situation. 

Steps to Composting and Creating Nutrient-rich Soil

1. Choose your Container

To begin composting, you will need some basic supplies, including a bucket for collecting food scraps and a composting bin. These days, gardeners can choose between a variety of composters, some with luxury components. Those who live in areas with substantial acreage have the option of the primitive compost pile. However, for most modern gardeners, worm composters or tumblers are more ideal. Tumblers are equipped with a handle that you can spin to speed up the composting process.  

2. Choose your Location

Next, situate your bin(s) or container in a convenient location that is well-drained and in partial shade. It should be easily accessible for adding in materials and checking on it. Ideally, work up to at least two bins to allow for a batch to finish up and be used while the next batch is in process. Some bins and tumblers have more than one compartment to allow for the same type of process.

3. Add in Leaves, Debris, and Organic Materials   

The size of the compost pile is generally no smaller than 3 x 3 x 3 ft and no larger than 5 ft. Compost ingredients are mainly carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens). While precise balancing is not necessary, foul odors are warning signs that your compost is faulty. Too much carbon can also cause the compost to dry out and make it harder to break down.  

Desiccated fall leaves may not look like much, but are regarded by gardeners as important carbon input. When alternated with green material, such as grass clippings,  the result will be a diverse layer of rich organic material. The hugelkultur process, which operates using similar principles, is a great way to save money and fill raised garden beds. 


Things That Shouldn’t be Composted

  • Meat, fish, or bones
  • Dairy products or eggs
  • Leftovers that are not primarily plant material
  • Plants or wood treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizer
  • Diseased plants
  • Weed seeds and roots 
  • Charcoal ash 

Things That Can be Composted

  • Leaves
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Eggshells
  • Grass clippings, hay, or straw
  • Untreated sawdust, paper, and cardboard
  • Yard trimmings

4. Monitor your Compost Pile  

As your compost bin accumulates material, the temperature will rise. Aerate your compost pile using a pitchfork or shovel periodically to speed up the composting process. Use a garden fork or knife kit to turn the pile inward. Monitor the moisture content of your compost pile, adding in water or wet materials if it becomes too dry, and brown material if it becomes too wet. 

5. Harvest and Use the Compost 

When your compost pile stops producing heat, it will have turned into a dark brown color, emit an earthy smell, and lack recognizable scraps. It is ready to be harvested and used as fertilizer, mulch, or a soil amendment. Sift through the compost for any sizable material that has not broken down, then distribute the rest into flower beds, raised beds, or containers.  


How to Fix Common Problems 

1. Compost Releases Unpleasant Odors 

The bane of many gardeners is smelly compost, which is usually caused by excessive nitrogen, too much moisture and inadequate oxygen levels. To remedy this, add in carbon material, such as dried leaves.. If the problem persists, you may want to try out a different composting method, such as a worm bin, which is generally odorless. 

2. Pile doesn’t heat up

When this occurs, the pile is either too dry or there is not enough nitrogen present. The compost pile may also be too small – the pile should be at least 3 x 3 x 3 ft, and 5 x 5 x 5 ft in winter. Replenish with nitrogen content, water, or aerate it. Supplementing with coarse materials can also help.  

3. Attracts rodents and other pests 

Improperly maintained piles can attract rodents and other wildlife. To reduce this possibility, keep your compost covered and follow the correct steps to ensure proper aeration and temperature. Refrain from adding meat, eggs, or dairy products to the pile. Also, keeping compost ingredients at less than four inches in length can help avoid the occurrence of excessively large air pockets within a pile that could be conducive for providing rodent nesting habitat. 

In the end, very valuable compost can be produced fairly easily with just a few simple best practices followed. 

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