The Edible Garden : How to make great home compost for your garden

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Composting, what’s not to love. It’s a great way to get organic materials out of landfills, plus it makes black gold for your vegetable garden. Read on for some quick tips to make home composting a breeze.

The right intention
To make a great meal, you need to start with great ingredients, and follow a great recipe. Composting is no different. To get a great compost to enrich your vegetable garden you need to make sure you put great things into your composter. The idea is to generate a high organic content and great beneficial microorganisms in your compost. These microorganisms make nutrients in the soil available to your plants, and the organic matter is rich the building blocks your plants need to create stems, leaves, flowers and fruit. It’s the source of life on earth.

The right receptacle 
To get your home compost working well, you need the right composter. You can make one yourself out of repurposed pallets. The big black composters you get from the eco quartier work very well also. Anything smaller than that is not sufficient to compost properly. Ideally you should have two composters, so you can fill one up, and leave the other one to “cook”.  You need to place your composters somewhere easily accessible. If they are a pain to get to, you won’t use them. If you don’t have much space, consider a vermicomposter that you can keep right in the kitchen.

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What goes in, what stays out
The best thing to do is have two compost buckets on your counter, one for city pickup. Your home composter is reserved for only the best ingredients. Pretty much means just vegetable and fruit scraps. Yard waste like grass clippings, weeds, and leaves are great in the home composter as well. Coffee grounds and tea bags can go in, but not too much. Eggshells can go in too, and are great for adding calcium to the soil, but they do not break down, so you need to crush them up before adding them in.

Citrus, meats, oils, bones, anything cooked especially pasta, bread, anything fried, tissues, paper towels and any twigs or sticks from yard waste go into the city pickup. If you are in Montreal and don’t have municipal pickup yet in your area, you can contact Compost Montreal to pick it up for you.

Size matters
The fruit and vegetable scraps, and yard waste needs to be chopped up into 1-inch chunks. Whole melon rinds, long carrot tops or entire weed plants from the garden take too long to break down. It is well worth your while to take the time to chop your compostables into bite-sized chunks. Make sure to add grass clippings a bit at a time so that it doesn’t create a dense thatch.

Greens and browns, the recipe
Now that you have your ingredients, you need the recipe: 50% “greens” and 50% “browns”. The greens are anything fresh. Green leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings. These add nitrogen to the garden and compost very hot (up to 150 degrees Celsius) and very wet.

The browns are anything dead and dried up. The best source of browns is dead leaves. These add carbon to the mix, and dry up the compost. It is essential that your composter have half greens and half browns all the time. The best way to do this is collect dead leaves in the fall and keep them in a bag beside the composter. When you dump your kitchen container of fruit and veggie scraps, simply add an equal amount of dead leaves. Same thing goes for your yard cleanup. Add a hand full of dead leaves for every hand full of grass clippings or weeds.

For bonus points, add some garden soil every so often. The beneficial micro-organisms in the soil are the ones doing all the hard work breaking down the organic matter, so adding more into your composter helps. Stirring the compost periodically with a shovel or pitch fork also helps. The more your compost is aerated, the faster and better it will break down.

Fill your first composter up over the winter/spring. Once it is full, let it sit all summer and start filling up the second one.  For best results, water it with the hose if it gets too dry, and mix it up once a month or so. In the fall, empty out the composter into your vegetable or flower gardens. You shouldn’t be able to recognize any chunks of food if your compost is well finished.

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Writer Byline: Tereska Gesing is the owner of Urban Seedling [www.urbanseedling.com], an edible landscaping and vegetable gardening service in Montreal. She grows 65 different kinds of vegetables, berries and fruit trees with her husband and two young children in her Verdun backyard. Find out more at www.urbanseedling.com