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Why is composting important for beginner gardeners?

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Have you just started gardening, and you're looking for ways to reduce your waste? Or maybe you’ve seen a beautiful perennial garden on Instagram and wonder if composting can help you get those same results.

The good news is that composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you produce and improve the quality of your soil (and give a more lush garden).

I’ve taken some of your most commonly asked questions regarding composting and explained why composting is essential for beginner gardeners and how to get started below.

What is composting?

Composting is the natural process of breaking down organic matter into a soil-like substance.

You can use anything from kitchen scraps to fallen leaves as part of your compost. And it's a great way to reduce your waste while providing valuable nutrients for your garden.

Composting is especially important for beginner gardeners because it helps improve the soil and prepares it for planting.

Why should you compost?

The answer is simple. Composting helps you get the most out of your garden.

Think about it this way: When you plant a seed in the soil, the nutrients it needs to grow are in the soil (we hope). But what happens when that seed starts to grow? The plant starts to take up all of those nutrients, leaving none for other plants around it. That's where compost comes in.

Compost provides a steady stream of nutrients for your plants, keeping them healthy and helping them thrive.

It also helps to improve the quality of your soil, making it more fertile and able to support a wider variety of plants.

If you’re starting your first gardening — even if it’s in containers and pots — composting is a step that you can’t forget.

What can I compost?

For my garden, we compost almost everything. Really. Everything. From coffee grounds and banana peels to leaves that we rake up in the fall, it all goes in our compost.

Here are some of the most common items:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps

  • Coffee grounds and tea bags

  • Eggshells

  • Grains, like bread or pasta

  • Nutshells

  • Paper towels and napkins

  • Newspapers

Earthworms are a great addition. When you’re working in the garden and come across one of those little guys… toss it in your compost. They’ll help break down the materials and leave behind all of the rich compost you need.

Is it OK to compost meat?

Yes, you can add meat, bones and animal parts like skin and feathers to your compost pile. They will break down over time and your plants will love it. While you can add meat, I do not recommend it because you might end up attracting rodents and other animals to your compost pile. Plus, the meat will smell as it decays.

I've added an actual photo of what's in our compost bin below. We toss in everything from orange peels and coffee filters to paper towels, egg shells, bananas and apple cores. Once a week my husband (it's his job) will use a shovel and give it a stir, making sure that the new 'fresh' stuff gets mixed in with the parts that are already in process of breaking down.

The right mix of brown and green

Here’s the biggest tip when it comes to composting. Think of it as the magical compositing ratio.

The best compost for flower gardens is usually 4 parts browns to 1 part greens.

Browns are things like dried leaves, newspaper, and twigs. Greens are fresh, ‘living’ items like banana peels and cut grass. You need a good blend of both in order to get the pile warm enough to start breaking down. Too much green and your mix might smell bad. Too much brown and you’re left with an extremely long breaking-down process.

With that said, you don’t need to be super exact about it. I just go for a good mix of both and our compost has always done wonders for both the perennials and annuals.

How do I compost?

There are two main types of composting: cold and hot.

With cold composting, you simply need to add your organic waste to a bin, and over time, it will break down and turn into compost. This method can take anywhere from several months to 2 years.

I use cold composting in our garden. To help it work faster, I turn the compost weekly. That’s simply the process of sticking in a spade and stirring it around a bit. So that the new, ‘fresh’ material gets mixed in with the ingredients that are already in the process of breaking down.

With hot composting, you need to create ideal conditions for the microorganisms that help with the decomposition process. This involves maintaining a temperature of around 55-degrees Celsius or 131-degrees Fahrenheit.

To do this, you need to layer your organic waste in a bin, adding brown materials like dead leaves and twigs for aeration, as well as green materials like fruit and vegetable scraps. You also need to make sure the bin is kept moist but not too wet.

Where can I get a bin or container for my compost?

Even if you don’t have a huge space, composting is still an option. There’s even vermicomposting, which is when you compost using worms.

If that's not your thing, there are plenty of other options. You can buy a bin or container specifically for composting, or you can make your own. There are all sorts of tutorials online for making DIY compost bins out of everything from pallets to recycled tires.

We use a plastic container with a lid. It keeps rodents out and, during the summer, gets quite hot inside — which is great for breaking down the organic matter into even better organic matter!

The important thing is that your container is big enough to store all of your compostable materials, and that it has good airflow to help with the decomposition process. You also want to make sure it's in a shady spot so it doesn't overheat… that’s easy here in Denmark as most of the country is shady all year long.

We use a standard plastic composting bin. The little door at the bottom makes it easy to dig out the rich, garden-ready compost.

I’ve started composting, but why isn’t it breaking down?

Gardeners are known for their patience… but sometimes compost can be taxing even for the best of us.

If your pile or mix gets too dry, the organic matter will break down way slower than if it stays warm and moist. You can tell if it’s dry by looking at it and picking some up. If it feels dry, then it is. Add some green to the mix — that can be table scraps, vegetable peelings, cut grass, or fresh leaves. Add a bit of water and give it all a mix.

Compost can often dry out if you’ve added too many dried leaves, twigs, and things like that to your mix.

If you’re living in a cold climate (like me), you’ll also find that your compost breaks down way slower during the winter. This is normal. When the weather starts to warm up in the spring, you should notice that the compost is back on track and breaking down as expected.

What's the best way to accelerate the decomposition of organic matter such as leaves or grass clippings into rich soil-building humus?

To help your organic matter break down, try these easy tips:

  1. Add earthworms. These little creatures increase the rate of decomposition by tilling the soil and devour the organic matter.

  2. Keep the pile warm. Warm conditions increases the enzymatic reaction and that speeds up the decomposition.

  3. Cut all of the leaves or grass into smaller pieces, making it easier for them to decompose.

  4. Keep the organic matter moist.

What are the top 3 benefits of using compost in my garden?

Just 3? Ok. I’ll try to narrow down the long list of incredible composting benefits to the main three.

  • First, it helps improve the quality of your soil. By adding compost to your perennial or annual flower beds and containers, you're increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, which in turn increases its ability to hold water and nutrients. This is especially important in areas with sandy soil.

  • Second, composting can help reduce the amount of water you need to use in your garden. When you add compost to your garden beds, it helps the soil retain moisture, which means you won't have to water as often. This is a great way to save water, especially during times of drought.

  • Finally, composting can help discourage weeds from growing in your garden. Weeds compete with your plants for water and nutrients, so by adding a layer of compost to your garden beds, you can help prevent them from getting a foothold.

The bottom line is that if you're a beginner gardener, composting is essential. It's an easy way to add nutrients to your soil, and it can also help to suppress weeds and pests.

Composting is also great for the environment since it reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills. That should be a big enough reason alone!

With a little effort, you can start composting and reaping the benefits in no time.


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Welcome to my garden

Hi! I'm Lars (Denmark).

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