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The Best Composting Methods for Your Garden

The Incredible Benefits of Compost

First of all, can we give you a big virtual hug for getting started in composting? This amazing process not only benefits your home and garden but also our entire planet earth! When I started designing gardens after college, I became super passionate about composting and took a 7-week long intensive course in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, we’ve tried almost every kind of compost method and system in our own gardens, including compost bins, tumblers, in-ground composting, vermicompost with worm bins, and other hybrid methods. I’m thrilled to share with you everything we’ve learned through our years of gardening and help you choose the best and easiest composting systems for your needs and lifestyle.

Compost is a mix of decomposed organic materials such as food waste, plant, and animal matter. It is rich in nutrients and retains moisture in the soil, improving its structure and biodiversity. Composting promotes healthy root systems and plant growth, and it’s nature’s way of recycling organic waste. In all healthy ecosystems, nothing goes to waste – just look at the life cycles in a forest, where fallen leaves, branches, and animal matter are decomposed and turned into nutrients in the dark soil that supports new plant growth and animal life.

By composting at home, we’re keeping food wastes out of landfills and creating the best free fertilizers to feed our plants and garden. It’s an inspiring project – just look at this community garden in the UK that’s thriving thanks to homemade compost! To make better compost faster, you’ll need a proper balance of browns and greens, which we’ll discuss in more detail shortly.

Comparing the Best Composting Methods for Your Needs

There are several main methods of composting: passive (cold composting), active (hot composting), and vermicomposting. Less common variations include Bokashi composting and countertop composting. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each approach so you can choose the best fit for your garden and lifestyle.

Passive Cold Composting: The Easiest Way to Compost

Both hot and cold composting are done outdoors, either in bins, in an open pile, or in a trench. Vermicomposting can be done both indoors and outdoors using worm bins, buckets, or in-ground methods. Bacteria composting, like Bokashi, is great for small indoor spaces.

Our absolute favorite method is in-ground or trench composting – it’s fast, easy, no-mess, and minimal work. Here’s how it works: We collect our kitchen scraps in sturdy plastic bags or a bucket, storing them in the fridge to prevent smells and fruit flies. Once the bag is full, we take it to the garden, dig a hole about 10-12 inches deep, bury the scraps, and cover with 6 inches of soil. In most weather, it only takes 2 weeks for the scraps to break down, thanks to the earthworms and healthy bacteria in the soil.

This method is great if you have an outdoor space at least 3×3 feet and want to make a large amount of compost quickly for your garden. For smaller amounts of kitchen scraps or garden waste, the other 3 methods may be better suited. Variations on passive cold composting include lasagna gardening and hugelkultur, which are well-known techniques for building fertile garden beds from rotting logs and plant debris.

Active Hot Composting: Speed Up the Process

Billions of aerobic bacteria working to decompose the organic matter cause the active compost pile to heat up to an internal temperature of 110°F to 140°F (43°C to 60°C). The pros of hot composting are that it speeds up the process and kills weed seeds and disease spores.

To create a hot compost pile, you’ll need enough materials to build a pile of at least 3×3 feet. The ratio is about 50% greens (like grass clippings, alfalfa meal, manure, and vegetable scraps) and 50% browns (like paper, straw, leaves, and sawdust). Cutting up materials into smaller pieces helps speed up the decomposition.

Alternate 2 to 4 thick layers of brown and green matter, and after every few layers, add a thin layer of garden soil for essential microbes. If your materials are dry, sprinkle some water as you build up the layers. The pile should be damp overall but not soggy. Your compost pile will start heating up in 1-2 days, and you may notice steam rising and the pile size shrinking as the decomposition happens.

Turn the compost pile every 3 to 7 days for the first 2-3 weeks, moving the outside materials to the center. Let it sit once the pile stops heating up dramatically. Your compost will be ready to use in 1 to 2 months.

Vermicomposting: Composting with Worms

Vermicomposting can be done anywhere from a small indoor space to a large outdoor garden. The traditional method involves purchasing red worms, setting up a worm bin, and starting with kitchen scraps and bedding like shredded paper, coco coir, or pet shavings.

However, we’ve tried many easier ways with simple setups since then. For example, you can use a simple pot or bucket system, as shown in this video, which is a great alternative to traditional worm bins. Worms will eat most food waste, and they prefer sweeter, juicier items like melon rinds, avoiding super acidic waste like half a squeezed lemon until it decomposes more.

Indoor worm bins take a bit of fine-tuning, but we’ve learned a lot over the years and will share a detailed guide on how to compost using worms.

Other Composting Methods

Countertop Composting: We tried a countertop composter a few years ago, but overall, we didn’t think it was a good choice for us. The main downsides were that the finished compost was more like dehydrated or baked organic matter than true compost, and the volume was limited for a household that generates a lot of kitchen scraps. The pros were that it could minimize smells and bugs, and you could take the contents to an outdoor compost pile to finish composting.

Bokashi Composting: Bokashi is a great pre-composting method originated from Japan. It uses a Bokashi composter with bran, which is a complex blend of bacteria and yeast, to pre-digest waste matter, eliminate odors, and decrease composting time. This method allows you to compost all organic food waste, including meat, dairy, and fats.

Based on our experience, both the in-ground composting method and the stacked pot worm composting methods are so much easier with better results than countertop composters. But if you have limited space, a countertop composter could be a good option.

Choosing the Best Composting Method for Your Needs

Ultimately, the best composting method for you will depend on your available space, the amount of waste you generate, and your desired level of involvement. Here’s a quick comparison of the different approaches:

Method Pros Cons
Passive Cold Composting – Easy, no-mess
– Great for large volumes
– Fast decomposition
– Requires outdoor space
– Can attract rodents if not managed properly
Active Hot Composting – Faster decomposition
– Kills weed seeds and diseases
– Requires more maintenance
– Need to build a large enough pile
Vermicomposting – Can be done indoors or outdoors
– Worms do the work
– Requires specific worm species
– Needs more hands-on management
Countertop Composting – Minimal odor and pests
– Good for small spaces
– Limited volume
– Finished compost may not be as nutrient-rich
Bokashi Composting – Can compost all food waste
– Reduces odors and decomposition time
– Requires specific Bokashi bran
– Additional step of burying the waste

No matter which method you choose, the most important thing is to start composting and reap the amazing benefits for your garden. If you have the outdoor space, Today’s Gardens recommends trying the in-ground composting or stacked pot worm bin methods – they’re the easiest and most effective ways to turn your kitchen and garden waste into nutrient-rich soil that will nourish your plants.

Happy composting, and I wish you a beautiful and abundant garden!

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