Fall is an excellent and convenient time to start composting. Many of the materials you will need are available in abundant supply — fallen leaves, green garden trimmings, grass clippings, and natural moisture. For purpose of example, I am going to assume you are stocking a 3-sided compost bin. The same principles apply to the other methods as well. They are just variations of how much and where the materials are assembled.
You will want both carbon and nitrogen providing materials. Generally carbon source materials are thought of as “brown” or woody, dry, and older plant material — fallen leaves, straw, hay, small branches, wood chips, paper, even shredded cardboard. Nitrogen contributing materials are often seen as “green” or wet — fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, tea leaves, and coffee grounds. Bone or blood meal, hair, and fresh manure from grazing animals also supply nitrogen.
Now it’s time start building your pile. Your bottom layer should be various sources of organic matter. It could consist of some straw or hay, chopped corn stalks or cobs, fine wood chips or small twigs. The coarse material will allow some aeration from the bottom. Then top with a thin layer of untreated grass clippings, vegetable scraps and freshly fallen leaves, shredded if possible. Usually it is best to start with coarser material on the bottom, then finer material interspersed on top. Avoid thick dense layers of wet grass clippings or leaves as they tend to mat and exclude oxygen. Blend in multiple thin layers with other material. Many sources say you should aim for a carbon to nitrogen ratio between 25:1 and 40:1. Adding brown, dry, carbon material in a 2 to 1 ratio to green, wet, nitrogen-rich sources seems to achieve this balance in practical home-scale composting. My experience is that my garden gleanings and cleanings seem to yield a suitable ratio without too much worry on my part. What I’ve found more important is that smaller, finer chopped material will break down to rich compost faster. As the composting process progresses, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen will change anyhow. It’s an ongoing “work in progress.” Keep building until this organic matter layer is 6 to 8 inches thick.
Your second layer will act as the “fire starter” if you will. In it you will provide nitrogen sources to feed the microbes that make the compost process happen. If you have access to manure from grazing animals — horses, cows, sheep — an inch or two thick layer is ideal. Otherwise you can add a kick-start with a commercial compost starter. Just follow the package directions.
Lastly, time to introduce some microorganisms to get the whole process moving. You can call on your best gardening friend to share a little “black gold” that is already teaming with what it takes. Barring that, some soil from your existing garden will get the ball rolling as well. Avoid any soil treated with herbicide, fungicide or insecticide or you will be working at cross purposes. This step is mainly to get a quick start. Reality is, if your pile is built on or in the ground, the needed organisms will find their way to your heap soon enough.
To get the process started, water your pile just as you would your garden. Give it a good soaking but not a flooding.
Most fruit trees and berry bushes grow best when fed with a fungal-dominated compost. Fungi prefer to feed off carbon source materials. So for your fruit garden you will likely want to lean toward creating a compost higher on the carbon end of the C:N ratio. Dry fallen leaves, wood chips, straw, and shredded paper will be your composting friends.
For other information see —
Coming soon —
Compost Conundrums — Troubleshooting your compost pile