“Fertilizer does no good in a heap, but a little spread around works miracles all over.” - Richard Brinsley Sheridan One of the most important things a prepping gardener or small scale farmer can do is start composting. Compost is natures fertilizer, and if you feed the pile correctly, you will have rich, black gold to reinvest in your garden that could very well yield the largest, richest crop of fruits and vegetables you have ever grown. Let me offer you some simple advice , though. Do not go wasting your money on commercial "composting barrels" or "compost generators" even if you live in an apartment, you can compost on your balcony. All you need is the space for your compost and the knowledge of how composting works. I will cover composting on an apartment balcony in a later post. For right now, let us say you are a homeowner and have a 3 foot by 3 foot section of yard you can dedicate to composting. First things first - the containment unit. I have seen composting done in large plastic trashcans (with some serious modifications), in wire mesh enclosures, and open piles. let me say that you will have to decide what is right for your space, your budget and your time. We did a partially enclosed, two section composting bin that only cost the time it took to pick up the materials and put them together. It is made from free pallets we got from Freecycle held together with some 3 inch long deck screws. (This in not MY bin, but it is built identically, and since it is empty gives a great idea how it is built) Now you have the enclosure, what next? Well, you should understand what compost is and what it is really used for. Composting creates a dark brown, crumbly material. Your garden loves compost for several reason it's full of food your plants desire, it's chemical-free, and helps the soil retain moisture. Though it can take years for soil to rebuild lost nutrients on its own, amending the soil with compost speeds up that process. A compost pile gets "fed" with two kinds of organic materials, green and brown. The brown materials provide carbon, an energy source to the bacteria and microorganisms who decompose the materials, while the green materials provide nitrogen. Finding a balance between these two will improve the "heat" of your pile and prevent problems from occurring. Green materials include items such as: * plant matter from your garden * green grass clippings * pulled weeds * green table waste, such as fruit and vegetable peelings (Cover food scraps with soil to prevent drawing pests.) * coffee grounds and tea bags Brown materials include things like: * dead leaves * dead, dry grass clippings * plants that have wilted and gone brown * pine needles * twigs (shredded) * sawdust (from wood that has not been chemically treated) * shredded paper * egg shells Items that should not be used in a compost pile include: * meat or bone scraps * fish * dog or cat waste (you should not use any manure from dogs, cats, or other meat-eating animals, since there is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans.) * coal ash * leaves from magnolia, oak, holly, black walnut, and poison ivy * grease Get your compost pile started using by layering the materials. Compost piles should be started on bare ground, not on gravel or concrete, to improve air circulation and to allow microbes and organisms from the earth access to the pile. First, create a 8 inch layer of organic materials, a mixture of your "greens" and "browns". Make sure that there are plenty of coarser materials included, like untreated wood chips, to ensure good air circulation Next, add a thin layer of fertilizer. Animal manure (we toss our rabbit pellets on the pile) can be used, or you can use blood meal, 1 to 2 cups should do. Every time you "feed the pile", make sure you add the blood meal or animal manure. If you use any animal manure other than rabbit, it must be composted before adding it to the garden. Lightly water each layer as you go, and continue until you reach the top of your bin or run out of material. Alright, you have gotten your compost pile started. Now what? The Care and Feeding of Compost Piles As the new, proud owner of a compost pile, you have two options. You can either wait patiently for 3 to 4 months for your rewards (compost). This option is less labor-intensive, requiring that you turn the pile at 5 to 6 weeks and lightly water the pile. Or, you can continue adding fresh material to your compost pile. This requires more frequent turning, and watering (we do this weekly). Though this method is more work, it makes more regular use of the scraps leftover from meals and yard work (for those who are composting for the benefits of recycling like we are), and will produce an ongoing supply of compost. Now, for a caveat: I live in Texas, and my where I live my pile does not go dormant in the winter time. If YOU live in a place where the temperature drops below freezing for extended periods (more than a couple of days a year), your pile will go inactive in the winter months, unless special steps are taken. If you want your pile to remain active year round, please "Google" Winter Composting. As always, prepare for the worst, pray for the best.