If you have plants that require fertilizer, now is the perfect time to start a compost pile. Follow these simple steps to get set up in your Scottsdale home’s garden:
Pick a location: A shady, dry spot away from the house works best. Try to find a space with easy access to a hose or other water source nearby so you can water the pile if it becomes too dry.
Decide on a bin: You can build your own using a circle of heavy wire mesh, old wooden pallets, or concrete blocks. Another option is to contact your city public works departments. Most recycle their damaged containers into compost bins. For instance, the City of Phoenix sells bins for $5, and Tempe offers free recycled bins. You can also buy a fabricated bin or make a freestanding pile. If you decide on the freestanding method, make sure the pile measures at least 3 ft x 3 ft.
Add ingredients: There are several approaches when it comes to creating compound mixes. The simplest is to maintain a 50-50 mix of yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, and wood chips) to household waste (vegetable peels, coffee grounds, bread crusts, and even leftover pasta water). Layer, add water the pile to moisten, and mix.
Or, think in terms of “greens” and “browns.” Greens are typically the leftovers from your kitchen (excluding meat, oil, dairy, and bones) as well as grass clippings. These contain nitrogen. Browns are the dead leaves from your yard as well as shredded paper and contain carbon. Usually, you want to have more browns, or carbons, in your pile than greens.
Strike a balance: You’ll know by the look and smell of your pile whether you have the right balance of greens and browns. If the pile is wet, it needs more greens. Add pine needles or dry leaves. If the pile smells like ammonia, it needs more browns/carbons from materials like leaves or straw. Click here for a list of items that are carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich as well as those that should not be composted.
Stir things up: Turning your pile speeds up the composting process. Ideally, you want to turn it every few days with a pitchfork or shovel to mix everything except the bottom few inches. The interior should be hot, reading up to at least 120 degrees and up to 160 degrees during the summer, and the entire pile should be moist like a damp sponge. If it is not, water it with an oscillating sprinkler, which is preferable to a hose, for about an hour.
Troubleshooting: Composting is part science and part art form since it takes a little creativity to find out exactly what works for the location you choose and your household and yard waste output. If nothing is happening with your pile, it likely needs more nitrogen-rich kitchen waste and possibly water. You can add more nitrogen-rich ingredients by asking neighbors for their kitchen waste or a local coffee shops for excess grounds, or buy nitrogen supplements.
Use it: You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture looks less like food scraps and leaves and more like soil. This can take anywhere from two months to two years, according to the EPA. For more information about composting in Arizona, visit the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension website.