How to Compost in the Suburbs

You don’t have to live in the country to grow your own food.  Most suburban homes have a backyard that is more than big enough to grow a substantial amount of food. If you undertake the task of having a vegetable garden in the suburbs, there is a good chance that you will find the soil that you have is of poor quality, especially if your neighborhood is fairly new.

The reason for this is when they make subdivisions, they usually strip off the top soil when they are leveling the area to build. This means that all the nutrient rich soil is removed (and usually sold) by the builders and all that is left is the undersoil and clay, not the best for growing much of anything, which is why so many people use sod when making a lawn.

There are ways to work around this problem, the easiest probably being using raised garden beds. These are gardening beds that are built on top of the ground like this:

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However, some people don’t like the intrusive look of raised garden beds and they prefer to plant in the ground so it looks more natural.  If you want to do this, you must condition your soil so that it is more conducive to raising healthy plants.

How do you do this?  COMPOST!!  One of the easiest ways to condition your soil is by introducing composted material into it. However, buying compost can be rather pricey and it is kind of silly when you can so easily make it yourself, even in the suburbs.

When we lived in a subdivision, we put our compost pile behind the garage. We had about 6 feet between the garage and the privacy fence, so it was the perfect place to put it so it was out of site. I don’t care for compost piles that are in a confined area because I find them hard to turn and to work, but many people like them. They look like this:

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I prefer my compost pile to be open, so it is easily accessed with my pitchfork. Compost needs to be turned to keep it rotting at the best rate. I lined my pile with rocks behind my garage, so that it kept the compost in, without being too obstructive. It looked something like this:

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If you would like to make your own compost,  you can start any time of the year.  The best way to start compost is to layer the materials. The materials best for this are:

1.  Grass clippings – use your lawn mower to bag clippings as you mow the grass

2.  Shredded leaves – use your lawn mower to shred as small as possible

3.  Wood Ash – do not use charcoal as from a charcoal grills, it may have harmful chemicals

4.  Dead vegetable or flowers – don’t use any plants that died from disease or insect infestation

5.  Sticks and branches – from twigs to branches one or two inches thick

6.  Soil – do not use clay or clay infused earth

7.  Shredded Newspaper or business papers – do not use  glossy magazine type paper which contains toxic chemicals

8.  Beer – adding a few cans of beer can help  kick start your pile to start cooking

Start out by putting the sticks and twigs and the dead plants at the bottom to promote air flow and drainage. After that, layer the other items in fairly thin layers, especially the wood ash.  If your pile is in a place where smell does not matter, you can compost food scraps, as long as you avoid meat, fish, dairy, citrus peels and onion. However, keep in mind that rotting food is very stinky and your neighbors may not appreciate the smell, so if you have close neighbors I would avoid putting food in your compost pile. I never did because it also can attract animals like raccoons, groundhogs or possums and you don’t want them associating your yard with free meals because they will eat your garden when you plant it.

There are other things you should not put in your compost pile because it is not healthy, like:

1.  Manure – animal or human, however, urine is good for compost as it is rich in nitrogen.

2.  Tea or coffee in bags or synthetic based containers – synthetic materials do not compost

3.  Synthetic fertilizer – like Miracle Grow

4.  Sawdust from treated or painted/stained wood – contains chemicals

5.  Weeds – they will take root and suck nutrients out of the pile

You should turn your compost pile a couple times a month, to help give it air and keep the rotting process going.  By the time spring arrives, you should have some  nice compost to add to your soil either in the ground or in raised garden beds. Your plants will product more and you will save money not having to buy fertilizer.


Banner Image Credit: Flickr


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