We were discussing compost at my garden club meeting today, and it got me thinking about how many folks seem to be "afraid" to start composting. There are so many different formulas out there, and so many people preaching this way or that way being the only way to make it happen. Let me just say this right up front... there is no right or wrong way to make compost! Put a bunch of plant matter in a pile and ignore it, and eventually you will have amazing compost! You don't have to have exact ratios of green to brown, you don't have to turn it every day, and you don't have to add any starters or additives to make it happen!
What is compost? All it is is broken down (rotted) plant material. In nature, when plants die off, there is nobody there to remove all the dead material, clean up the space, and till the soil. The plants die, the dead material falls onto the ground, it rots, and the rain pushes the rotted bits into the soil where they protect and fertilize the plant. Mother Nature provides the earthworms to break down the bits into smaller bits, and the occasional animal to hoof through it and mix it up. That's all it takes!
So, where do you start? If you have some spare chicken wire or old pallets lying around, build yourself a small enclosure. If you don't have an enclosure, don't worry! Just make your pile wherever you want it (out of the direct sunlight is best, but NOT necessary,) and add your scraps as you get them. I add all my kitchen scraps (no meat, just plant material,) all the vegetation that comes out of the garden, and any leaves that are floating around the yard. Each time I start a new pile, I add a garbage bag of straw and chicken manure I get from a friend when she cleans out the chicken coop.
I like to start a new pile every fall. I pile up the chicken manure, add anything else compostable that I have laying around, water it down really good, and ignore it! This gives it the winter to start breaking down. I don't turn it for the first time until the following spring. When spring comes, I mix it all up and start adding my kitchen scraps. I add to this pile all summer, bit by bit, and turn it whenever I feel like it. By late July, my compost is ready to screen.
I save the screened compost for adding to new plants the following spring, and the bigger chunks get spread on top of the garden beds. There they sit for another winter, and in the spring I turn it all into the beds and start the whole process over again. Don't worry if not everything breaks down right away. Anything that is still recognizable ends up buried and it finishes composting right there in the garden.
This year I was fortunate enough to acquire some earthworms, meant for a worm bin. I gave up on the bin fairly quickly, and just dumped all the worms into the compost pile. When it came time to screen the compost, I pulled out literally hundreds of worms and gave them to my Mother, who keeps a worm farm. The compost was beautiful! The worms helped break down the pile much faster, and I will be adding them every spring from now on. But if you don't have access to earthworms, don't worry! If your pile is on the ground, the worms will find it, and work their magic on it without your help. Adding worms yourself just makes the process happen a little faster!
Yes, you can turn the pile every day, monitor the temperature, carefully measure the ingredients, and otherwise fret over this garden gold, but honestly, why would you? Pile it up, add to it, give it time, and Earth's natural processes will take care of the rest!