I can never have enough compost in my Florida vegetable garden. Compost is ideal for amending sandy soil, assisting in water and nutrient retention, and providing vital nutrients to plants. Compost is available for purchase, but I endeavor to produce much of what I need myself. After my first year of composting, I was so impressed by what my yard and kitchen trash turned into that I realized that I should produce much more of this black gold for my garden.
There are many approaches and methods to making compost. Some are simple, others are complicated.
The simplest method is to just pile up yard debris, let the microbes break it down, and it should be ready in about a year. Composting happens naturally; it is the natural process that breaks down dead plant and animal matter and recycles it back to be ready for plant growth. This pile-it-and-leave-it method is simple, but it takes the longest time to complete.
On the other extreme, you could carefully measure out the proportions of green(grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc.) and brown(dried leaves, straw, etc.) material, monitor the compost pile’s temperature, turn regularly, and have finished compost in a few short weeks. This is the most productive method, but also the most labor-intensive.
My three-bin composting system falls somewhere in the middle of these two.
As you can see, my compost system is made of upcycled pallets. I add fruit and vegetable scraps from my kitchen, egg shells, coffee grounds (of course!), small weeds, plant trimmings, shredded paper, leaves, and grass clippings to my “new” pile. Starbucks gives away their coffee grounds to gardeners, so I try to grab a bag of them often. I usually turn the piles with a pitchfork once a week to circulate air and to speed up the process. During the summer, when I have access to grass clippings, I can have a large amount of finished compost within a month. During winter, I do not have as much plant material being added to the piles and so do not get compost as quickly.
Typically, one section is new materials, one is “cooking”, and the last section is finished compost.
I avoid adding meat, bones, oils, invasive weeds(such as dollar weed), and plant matter that has been treated with an herbicide. The animal products, while technically compostable, may attract unpleasant animals. Invasive weeds may survive the composting process and be spread with the compost to my garden. Plants treated with an herbicide may retain traces of the chemical and harm my vegetables. Also, whenever I add melon rinds or fruit cores, I try to cover them so that animals aren’t attracted to the pile. Composting also occurs faster if the scraps are in smaller pieces, so I take a few extra seconds to cut banana, melon, and citrus peels into smaller chunks.
Composting is a great way to take what some might consider waste from the kitchen and yard and turn it into a valuable resource. I use mine to amend planting holes, side-dress plants, and to start seeds. Compost is the best amendment for a sandy Florida backyard garden.
If having a three-sectioned composting system intimidates you, you may be comforted by knowing that I did not start out with a three-sectioned composting system. I started composting in a plastic tote like this one.
I drilled holes in the bottom for drainage and added my materials to the bin. I added some soil and earthworms from my backyard. Occasionally I would turn the contents. I was so impressed by the dark, rich compost that I decided that I needed to make much more, and the three section system was built. If you are thinking of starting to compost this year, you may want to start small.
Finished compost should look like dark, rich soil. All of the original ingredients should be fully composted and it should not have an unpleasant smell. Can you see the difference in the picture between my Florida soil on the left and the rich compost on the right?
Composting is not a complicated, difficult process. Even if you just have a little garden or a small flowerbed, you can take your kitchen scraps and yard waste and turn it into a valuable addition for your Florida garden. Have you tried composting? Have you been thinking of trying it? Spring is a great time to start!
Coming soon- see how a retired couple builds a raised bed for growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers in their Florida backyard.