More and more people are starting to see the benefits of growing their own food in a small backyard vegetable garden. Apart from saving money, having a garden can be a great way to reduce stress, work together as a family and have the personal satisfaction of doing something creative and useful for the environment. One great way to improve the productivity of a vegetable or flower garden is to produce your own compost. This article explains the best approach to home composting, making it easy for you to get started straight away. Composting is simply a way of speeding up the natural process of rotting that takes place in forests, fields and other landscapes all over the world. All you need for composting is organic materials, naturally-occurring microorganisms to break down these materials, oxygen and water to help them do their work. If possible, some physical mixing of the compost is also very helpful. Most gardens and households have plenty of organic matter in the form of lawn and shrub clippings, weeds, newspaper, cardboard, kitchen waste and leaves. If you keep chickens, their droppings are also very useful as a compost additive. To create the highest quality compost, you will need a carbon/nitrogen (C:N) ratio of about 30:1. Weeds, lawn clippings and food wastes typically have a C:N ratio in the range 10:1 to 35:1, whereas the ratios for paper and straw are about 170:1 and 100:1, respectively. This means that the bulk of your composting material should be 'dry', carbon-rich waste, with a relatively small amount of 'green', nitrogen-rich material mixed in to create the right proportions. While this may seem a bit too mathematical, you don't need to get all scientific when it comes to making compost. If you have about three quarters dry waste and one quarter green waste, this will make a good compost pile. The best approach is to build or buy a two-bay or preferably three-bay structure in which to compost your materials. This allows you to fill one bay and then leave the waste to break down as you move on to the second and then third bays. By the time the third bay is full, the first bay should be full of beautiful compost that is ready to use. If you can afford it and want to get set up fairly quickly, buy three HDPE compost bins with lids and line them up in a convenient corner of the garden. It is best to locate them away from direct sunlight and in a place where they won't get blown over by the wind. Most gardens will have space for this, as round compost bins are typically only about one meter high and half a meter in diameter. Rest each bin on a piece of bird wire with small holes. This will stop rodents from digging underneath and feasting on any food scraps, while allowing soil microorganisms (including worms) and moisture to pass through the mesh. To speed things up, add a bag of commercial composting worms. If you have a large amount of material to break down, you can always increase the size of the composting bays. Wooden pallets are a good resource for the walls of each bay, as long as they aren't made out of treated pine. If possible, it is a good idea to fill in the gaps between the pallet planks with other second-hand timber. You can also use an old piece of carpet to cover the top of each bay. If you only add material gradually to your compost piles, it is likely that they will stay fairly cool and take several months to mature, which is fine as long as you have several bins or bays in various stages of completion. If you want a quicker result and have enough material to create a big pile of compost in one go, the process will be faster as heat-loving bacteria will dominate the process and produce a 'hot' compost heap. If you have ever seen steam rising from a pile of organic material when you turn it over with a fork, this is essentially a hot composting process at work. Whichever method you use, it is best to shred any 'waste' material as finely as possible before adding it to the bin. Remember that woody waste can take many months to fully break down, so shredded wood chips are best put directly onto ornamental gardens as mulch rather than using them as compost material.
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