I was treated to a free and informative compost presentation at my local community garden meet-up last night, yet another reason to love the community garden experience! As far as composting goes, I had no idea it was so simple. Up until yesterday I simply threw things into the community composter bins without thinking much about it. I'd talked to friends with worm bins on their balconies and had even grown up with a compost (my mother was doing it longer before it was cool :)) but honestly until last night I was fairly uninformed about the entire process.
Very simply put, composting is the breaking down of organic matter into nutrients by microbes and macrobes in the soil. Microbes are little bugs you can't see, macrobes are the big guys like worms that you get to pick through when taking out your beautiful, black soil to add back into the garden.
There are a few ways you can compost, depending on how much space you have and how much compost you need. A great start for apartment dwellers are worm bins that you can keep on your balcony. I don't have any personal experience with these, however, but there is a great write up on this Savvy Gardener site, and another more basic one here on WikiHow.
I compost in large bins at my community garden with 75 other households, which is definitely a task in cooperation! Learning what should and should not go in the bins, what the most effective way of composting is (think small pieces! surface area is everything) and how to harvest compost for growing in your garden are all things that I have learned since joining the Port Royal Community Garden.
The entire presentation can be found here (thanks Jean!!) but below are some pointers that should help anyone looking to set up a large bin compost:
1. Decide what kind of bin will work best for you. Cheapest and easiest are the stationary large plastic bins (dark coloured, especially black, work best) but you will need to have tools to turn the compost manually. You can also get rotating bins, but these are considerably more expensive.
2. Place your bin in an accessible, sunny location.
3. Put in food stuffs! A good balance of greens and browns (food waste, yard trimmings, etc) make for the best compost. If you find your compost is too wet, you can add new paper clippings to soak up some of the moisture.
4. Allow the composter to do its work! It's not a bad idea to have a couple composts going that will be at different points in the process. At PRCG we have two that are ready for harvest and two that are currently taking fresh food stuffs. A thermometer can be helpful at this stage as compost naturally heats up and needs to be at a specific temperature (I believe around 140 - 160 degrees Farenheit) for optimal performance.
5. Harvest your compost by sifting it into a bucket and mixing it into your garden soil. Try to make sure all the worms stay in the compost as they are very important in the process!
A great website for all things compost is How to Compost.org.