Photo by Mother Earth News
1. Basic compost pit: The basic compost pit is the simplest, most straight-to-the-garden way to incorporate compost directly into your yard. Simply find a well-drained area in your yard. Clear it thoroughly, possibly digging down a few inches, and then create layers of green and brown matter, starting with a 6-inch layer of brown matter followed by a 2-3 inch layer of green matter. Water each layer until it's moist, then repeat the layering process until you have used up your compost. Keep adding as you acquire more green and brown materials.
Tip: The more frequently you turn your compost, the faster the organic material will break down into finished compost. It should take anywhere between two months and a year to break down, depending on the materials you've included and how frequently you turn or mix the pile. Keep it moist but not wet, similar in consistency to a wrung-out sponge.
2. In-vessel composting: For this technique, you place the organic matter in a drum, silo, or bin-possibly one with a mechanism that turns the compost to aerate it. These vessels vary in size, making them appropriate for individual homes, businesses, schools, etc. With a solid composter you can add materials year-round in most climates, even in extremely cold weather if the vessel is properly insulated.
3. Sheet composting: This is another no-bin technique, in which you spread multiple thin layers of organic matter on top of the soil, let it rest (lie fallow) for a while, and then till it before you plant. Also known as sheet mulching or "lasagna composting," sheet composting involves covering the soil with a layer of cardboard or newspaper, then adding a layer of compost, followed by a layer of organic brown material. While it can be a slower approach to building soil organic matter, sheet mulching is a great approach for an empty unproductive area.
Photo by Sustainable Lafayette
Red wiggler earthworms (also called tiger worms) will break down organic matter and produce nutrient-rich castings. They feed on food scraps, shredded paper, coffee grounds, etc. and transform the scraps into highly fertile manure. You can start with any sort of lidded plastic container: punch several holes in the lid so the worms can breathe. Shred old newspaper and dampen it slightly, then put the worms in the container with a handful of food scraps and the cover with the shredded paper. The key here is to feed the worms enough, but not too much that they can't keep up, and keep the worm bin between 50 and 75 degrees F for ideal worm living conditions.
If you are choosing an outdoor compost system, be sure to choose a location that has an accessible water source and a fair amount of sunlight.
Building and incorporating compost into your garden
can be both simple and highly gratifying. Even if you live in a small apartment with little to no green space, you can produce compost for a neighbor, community garden, or urban food non-profit. Happy composting!
To learn more about composting, visit these resources:
Sheet Composting: "The Secret to Converting Lawn to Garden"
Vermicomposting: "A Step-by-Step Guide to Vermicomposting"
General tips from the city of Cambridge