Nutrient-rich compost is easy to make at home, plus it’s absolutely free.
In the fall, I envy people who have red, gold and brown leaves carpeting their yards. Seeing them bagged at the curb makes me even more frustrated. With mainly conifers in my garden, I would love a convenient source of leaves to use as weed-suppressing mulch. Dried leaves are also wonderful for composting.
The best deal on earth, literally, may be compost. You throw in garbage and get back rich, black humus to use in the garden. And it’s not just for country folk and gardening fanatics anymore. A friend of mine just bought a compost bin for the roof deck of her downtown penthouse.
Throwing something in the compost is no more difficult than dumping it in a trash bin—and you don’t have to wait until garbage day to get rid of it. Life handed you a lemon? After making lemonade, compost the rind. Birthday bouquet seen better days? Add it to the compost so one day it can nourish more flowers. Bread gone mouldy? Toss it in the compost.
Most plant-based materials can be composted. As a convenient rule of thumb, they are categorized under two earth-tone colours—green and brown—both of which are needed to produce compost.
You can compost by layering ingredients in a large pile, but a composter is tidier for smaller gardens. Many municipalities offer them at subsidized prices. Municipal websites also offer tips on how to compost.
Basic Compost Recipe
Green (wet) materials: any combination of fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and bags, crushed egg shells, fresh grass clippings, plants, flowers, bone meal, manure, seaweed
Brown (dry) materials: any combination of dried grass or leaves, straw, corn cobs, flour, pasta, rice, beans, shredded paper and cardboard, wood ashes, natural fabric scraps, feathers, hair, vacuum cleaner dust and dryer lint
Do not compost plants that are diseased or treated with pesticides; perennial weed roots or weeds gone to seed; animal droppings; plastics; metals; charcoal or coal ashes. Meat, bones, dairy products, fats and oils attract animals so should be kept out of the compost unless you have a Green Cone or Green Johanna composter (https://www.greencone.ca).
Place the composter in an accessible area with good drainage and a hose nearby.
Place twigs or small branches in the bottom of the composter to aid air circulation and drainage.
Add a layer of green material topped with an equal amount of brown material—or mix them together before composting. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will decompose. You can multitask by peeling fruits and vegetables onto newspaper, then rolling it up in a bundle.
Keep the mixture moist but not soggy. Turn or stir it frequently to increase oxidization and speed decomposition. Rotating drum-style composters are efficient, sold for $185 at Lee Valley Tools. A much cheaper alternative is a Wingdigger compost mixing tool from North Shore Recycling for $7.50.
If the mixture becomes too wet or smelly, add more browns. If decomposition is too slow, add more greens.
Cook until the mixture turns into crumbly black soil, from two weeks to a year depending on how much attention you give it.
Use as a soil amendment, top dressing or mulch. —Felicity Stone