If you have a yard or garden of any size, you can turn left-over vegetation into free fertilizer by composting. Look around at all the leaves and gardens! Fall’s bounty includes left-over organic matter that you can harness. Now is your chance to boost your composting program. Here are Uncle Jim’s fall composting tips:
Gather Local Organic Material
There is plenty of compostable organic vegetation around. Not just on your property. Your neighbors might have material, too! Ask them to save stuff for you. Local coffee shops can save coffee grounds and other kitchen scraps for you. Decorative fall items like pumpkins and corn stalks are also compostable.
Vegetable gardens always have lots of left-over material from pruning, rotted fruit and veggies that didn’t get harvested in time, and some of the old vines and plants that have finished their jobs. If you are canning, you will have tons of peelings and rinds left over. Nightshade vines are not good for composters because volunteer plants tend to come up.
Raked leaves are perfect for composting. While oak leaves might be too acidic, most other types of leaves can be composted. If you shred them with your lawn mower or a shredder, they will break down even faster. Grass clippings are also good, but should be mixed in to prevent packing down – otherwise, stinky anaerobic bacteria might grow.
Avoid composting diseased plant materials. Big sticks and branches will take a long time to break down.
Choose Where to Compost
You may already have one or more existing composting systems. Your search may result in a large quantity of materials. If you need to add a composting pile for large quantities, do so.
Enclosed Vermicomposting System: These range from simple plastic tote-based worm composting bins to elaborate, multi-layered tray-based systems. For example, we show you how to make a composter from a tote in this video. Examples of tray-based systems include the Worm Factory 360, the Can-o-Worms and the Worm Café. With a system like this, be careful not to add too much organic material at once. Otherwise, you can get a horrible smell and unhealthy worms. Bury organic matter equal to the weight of the worms in a different spot every few days. Check to make sure they are keeping up. Large or dry items will take quite a long time to break down in these composters. These composters can be indoors, outdoors or in a sheltered area.
Large Outdoor Composters: Big composters are typically made of plastic or wood. They can be simple pallets nailed together, big plastic bins with holes for aeration, or plastic composters that can be rotated. See these examples of outdoor composters on the Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm website. These composters can handle a larger volume of organic materials. Composting worms will break down the material faster than no worms. If you are worried about keeping worms in these composters, get one with a lid and keep the lid on.
Chicken Wire Composter: Leaves contain a lot of air and therefore take up space. If you have significant amounts of leaves, consider making a simple chicken wire composter to break them down. See our video about making a chicken wire composter. You can use chicken wire composters with or without adding composting worms. Obviously, these worms might escape if they run out of food or get a better offer!
How to Compost
Smaller pieces will break down faster than larger pieces. If it’s convenient, use a knife or food processor to break down the organic matter. No need to go crazy here, because you might be dealing with a lot of volume in the fall. This is where a larger composter comes in handy, because you can add more stuff.
Unneeded veggies can be stored in the fridge or freezer. Defrost and meter them out to yourcomposting worms over time.
Organic matter that doesn’t break down too fast, such as dry leaves, can be stored. You can add them to your composting bin over time. If you have worms, remember that burying the material helps them find it and break it down faster.
When It Gets Cold
Make hay while the sun shines! The colder it gets, the more your worms and composting process will slow down. Below around 57 degrees, the worms go dormant. They still need food, but they eat at a slower pace. Freezing temperatures stop the composting process and can kill your worms. Either move your worms indoors or to a warmer area (here’s how), or hope that new worms will hatch from eggs in the Spring.
Keep an eye out for all the great organic material in your neighborhood. Turn it into a rich fertilizer for next Spring’s garden by composting. It’s cheaper for you, and better for the environment.
The best composting worms are Uncle Jim’s Red Wiggler Mix. Our Super Reds are best to release into the garden for aeration and composting.