How To Compost On a Small Scale

Composting on a Small Scale

Spring flowers in a container garden fertilized with compost

We’ve talked about composting before, but compost is so vital to healthy plants and beautiful gardens that we are going to talk about it- again.

This time, however, we are going to talk about composting on a small scale.  Many of us in Galveston do not have a large yard, if any, so a large composting bin or pile will not work.  At my home on Winnie Street, there is no soil to dig in, it is all concrete.  So, I have container gardens and a container compost bin. So, if you find yourself in a small gardening situation or even an apartment, this method will work for you.

The average kitchen produces plenty of green matter for a compost pile.  Green matter is fresh vegetation that is high in nitrogen.  Fallen leaves and old newspaper or boxes provide plenty of brown matter.  If you are using paper or cardboard, the smaller you tear or shred it, the better.  The brown matter is dried vegetation that is high in carbon.

What I use for my container is a large plastic pot that housed an ornamental tree from the nursery.  When I first began the compost bin, I layered leaves 2-3 inches thick with kitchen scraps about 1 inch thick then topped with another layer of brown matter.  You want a lot more brown matter than green matter.  I wet this down and left it alone.  In a few days, I stirred it.  If it got dry, I watered it.  My pot does have a few holes in the bottom so that it drains.  Given time, the ingredients break down and look like black soil.

There are a lot of myths about compost.  If your compost smells, you are doing it wrong.  Add more dry brown matter to the pile to correct the smell.  Rodents are not attracted to a compost pile unless you are adding meat scraps or cooked food- which you shouldn’t do.

Regardless of the size of your garden, compost is essential. Feeding plants is crucial to their health, all soil can be depleted regardless of the type of gardening that you are doing. In a container, the soil can be depleted much faster than in a garden bed. So, adding compost is a great way to feed the soil in a container garden.

Composting also keeps garbage out of the landfills. By converting your kitchen scraps such as vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds, and egg shells into black gold for your flowers and plants, you are helping the environment in so many ways.

There are many other ways of composting, including vermicomposting, but a simple bucket and some old leaves will get it going. You can also turn your compost into the best liquid fertilizer- compost tea.

As I have created gardens and grown all manner of plants for over a decade, people always ask how I get the great results.

COMPOST is the answer.

Here are some of the results:

Do not spread the compost on the weeds.”

William Shakespeare- Hamlet

Compost does make things grow, but thankfully weeds detest fertile soil. So, the more compost you use the more fertile your soil and the less

weeds you will have. Beautiful!

Here are some common kitchen items that make GREAT compost:

  • eggshells
  • vegetable trimmings
  • coffee grounds
  • old coffee
  • old tea
  • newspaper
  • paper towels
  • tea bags
  • old lettuce from the drawer of your refrigerator
  • any old veggies from the drawer of your refrigerator
  • banana peelings
  • paper egg cartons

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Holly K. Ross, where happily ever after is a way of life. Writer on Galveston Island
, ga

Compost Tea

Compost Tea
For blooms like this, all you need is compost tea. It makes great vegetables, too!
If I had to pick one thing that was essential for a good garden, aside from the soil, it would be compost tea.  Compost tea is a liquid fertilizer, mild insect repellent, and a mild fungicide.  The ease of application and production makes this potion hard to beat.
Everyone should have a compost pile going somewhere on their property.  Even if it is just a pile back in the corner that you add to when the leaves fall, you bag the lawn clippings, or you have veggie scraps from the kitchen.  If you would like more information on composting, see the gardening category at the side.  Down at the bottom of this pile will be finished or almost finished compost.  To make the compost tea, you simply take some of this finished compost and soak it in water. Then you pour off the water in a container, discard the old compost into the garden and you have compost tea.  That is the basic process and it is that simple.
To be more specific, I use a 55 gallon drum, these can be found at feed stores, on craigslist or from folks selling them on the side of the road.  In the bottom of the drum I dump about 3 inches of almost finished compost.  Almost finished means that there is still larger pieces of leaves and hay, but a lot of brown crumbly stuff also.  Then the drum is filled with water and the lid is put on.  Once this sits for two weeks, the tea is done.  This is the basic recipe for compost tea and it will work great.
To enhance the power of the tea, there are a few simple additions I like to put in the drum when I fill it with water.  First, I add a bag of Epsom Salts.  The salt adds trace minerals that are essential for good plant health and blooms.  Next, is a can of beer.  The beer feeds the microorganisms that are doing the work of breaking down the compost and making the nutrients usable for plants.  The more microbs, the more work gets done, the more beneficial to plants the tea will be.  Molasses is also good for feeding the microbs. There are many other things that can be added, such as alfalfa meal, fish meal, bone meal and those are all good, but not essential.  Basically, there is no wrong way to make the tea, so tinker around with it and find what works well for you and your plants.  If you google compost tea, you can find some really complicated recipes and “rules” that must be followed, however, I have been using the above recipe for  several years with great results.  Complicated is not necessarily better.
Once the tea is made it can be applied in several different ways.  You can simply dip it out of the drum with a bucket and pour it on or use a watering can.  My favorite way is to strain the tea through a screen- an actual window screen works fine- and put it in a pump sprayer.  Eight ounces of tea will dilute into 1 gallon of water.  Please remember to dilute the tea, concentrated tea right out of the drum can burn new growth and seedlings.  The 1 gallon sprayer I use is just right for the job.  It is not too heavy to carry and it holds enough to do my flower beds and nursery stock for one week. The fine mist that lands on the leaves is excellent for the plants.
As you can see, one batch of tea in a drum will last the average gardener all growing season.  All that the tea costs you is what it cost to fill the drum with water.  Compare the cost of the tea with a liquid fertilizer you would buy at a garden store and you will see that the effort to make your own really pays off.