Fall is the best time to start composting, because you have a lot of composting ingredients to choose from this time of year. Cleaning up the flower beds and garden plots, mowing the lawn, raking fresh fallen leaves, vegetable scraps, annual and perennial flower cuttings. What makes good compost? Grass clippings that haven’t been treated with “weed and feed” or herbicides, cuttings from perennials that are soft, not “woody”, small twigs and vegetables that have run their course.
There’s always the question whether to use tomato plants in compost. Some things to consider before adding tomato plants to the compost pile. Diseases can survive the composting process and get added right back into the soil when the compost is used in the spring. The same can be said of any plants with powdery mildew or other molds. These need to be trashed, not used in the compost pile. In addition, the compost pile may not get hot enough (130° - 150°) to kill off the seeds of many plants, including weeds. There will be lots of volunteers everywhere you spread your compost, so remove seed heads and seed pods from plants before they are added to the compost pile.
Basic composting consists of layering “green” and “brown” materials, and then adding water. Green materials are high in nitrogen such as grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, shrub clippings. These make the compost heat up. Brown materials are high in carbon, such as leaves, sawdust, twigs, dry garden waste, and shredded newspaper and cardboard. A good ratio is 3 parts brown to 1 part green.
The smaller the pieces are, the hotter the compost gets and the quicker the materials breakdown. Don’t compost meat, dairy or pet waste.
A simple way to compost is to bury it right in the garden (called trench composting). Trench composting takes up little room and will attract worms.
Or buy some starter worms to add to the process. Red wigglers are best for composting.
Another convenient way to compost is with a compost bin. Tumbling composters make it easy to turn your compost, thus speeding up the process. The more turns, the faster the compost develops. Keep compost moist, not soggy. If the compost starts to stink, it’s probably too wet (not enough oxygen).
The compost you start now will make a great soil amendment for spring. It will help break up the clay and add texture and nutrients to your soil. Remember to mix compost into the garden a few weeks before you plant, to give it a chance to work into the soil.