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composting is easy…no really, it is!

July 18th, 2011

Thanks to Christine Smith and the Placer County Master Gardener’s Summer 2005 issue of The Curious Gardener, we have great instructions on how to build and understand a compost pile!

There are four basic things needed for this kind of compost pile: browns, greens, air, and water. This means your pile should be located in a open area, near a water source, and should have equal parts green and brown.

“Brown” is something dry and high in carbon. There are lots of examples of brown; you can include dead leaves, cut brush, wood shavings, and straw. From inside the house you can use newspaper, paper egg cartons, junk mail (but only the non-slick or shiny paper), paper towels, as well as the paper towel tubes, and other forms of corrugated cardboard.

The “greens” will come from things that are moist and high in nitrogen. Grass clippings, or feces from animals that only eat plants, and from the kitchen you should save tea bags, citrus rinds, and fruit or vegetable trimmings.

Proper air and water balance within a pile is essential for rapid decomposition to occur. Turning, lifting and stirring are the most efficient ways to aerate a compost pile. The pile should be moist to the touch, but yield no liquid when squeezed, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Also the smaller the pieces, the faser the composting process, so pieces should be between 1/2″ to 1 and 1/2″ in size. To achieve this size, try shredding the compost ingredients before adding them to the pile or using a power lawn mower with a bag attachment to reduce the particle size and increase particle surface area. Altogether though, the pile should be about 3′x3′x3′ or one cubic yard.

Assembling the pile:

  1. Start with 4-6″ of brown
  2. Add 4-6″ of green
  3. Mix the layers using a spading fork or shovel
  4. Check pile for moisture- grab a clump of material and squeeze it, if it sticks together you’re good to go, if not sprinkle a little water on the pile and re-stir

Repeat steps 1-4 until the pile is 3′x3′x3′, always checking moisture content after each layer is added. After about 2 days the pile temperature will be between 110-140F , which could cause steam to come off the pile but this means that composting is happening! On day 3, turn the pile and check the moisture, and this is to be done every 3 days from this point forward. Temperature will continue to rise, which kills weed seeds, insect eggs and diseased organisms. Using a compost thermometer check the temperature and if it rises above 140F, cool it off by turning the pile. 

After 2 weeks the pile temperature will drop as composting slows and at this point the compost should be dark brown and crumbly with an earthy scent.


UC Davis Good Life Garden Home Edition: COMPOST

April 29th, 2011

As a member of the communications team for the UC Davis Good Life Garden I try to promote the garden and encourage our community to expand their edible gardening experiences.  We hope that by following the Good Life Garden’s progress, you can learn how to plant your own seasonal edibles, because, they not only taste great, they are great for you and our environment.  There is however one small problem, I am not a gardener!  But I can follow instructions, and like when experts tell me what to do!

Yada, yada, yada…Welcome to the first edition of what we are calling the UC Davis Good Life Garden Home Edition–Tales from Total Amateurs.

The total amateurs in this case are my husband, my dog and me.  We have been growing an edible garden in our backyard for about three summers in a row now with dwindling success each year, but this year is going to be different; we hope!  This year we are going to do it right, but we need your support.  We will also seek more advice than we have in the past with the hope that we can help each other along.

STEP ONE:  Soil Preparation

Right now we are starting with getting our soil ready by following tips we’ve gotten from the Good Life Garden blog, Sunset Magazine, and others in an effort to create the same bounty and beauty we see at the UC Davis Good Life Garden.

Here is a link to how the UC Davis Good Life Garden preps their soil.

A couple years ago we started composting.  We read about it, evaluated all the potential options, looked into getting a discount composter from the county, and then finally, after months of indecision we stopped fretting about it and just started doing it.  We are sure there is a better way, but, after watching this video from Sunset Magazine, composting really didn’t seem that complicated after all.

Photo of Compost and Garden Area
This is a partial photo of our raised garden bed, but in the back there you can see our compost bin. It is not too complicated. Just start by layering dry stuff (leaves, etc.) with wet stuff (grass clippings, food waste from your kitchen, etc.)

Here is the link to that video that helped kick start our composting efforts:

How to Make a Chicken Wire Compost Bin

They offer other videos you can access from this same page that include “How to Make Your Own Compost.”

Long story short, it can be complicated, but doesn’t have to be.  In preparation for this summer’s garden, we are excited to actually be using the compost we’ve helped create. It is weird to think about dirt as your own.  I’m very proud of it.

Photo showing the shoveling of compost.
Here my husband is spreading around some compost that, I must say, looks pretty darn good. Not a very scientific evaluation is it? Or, as I also like to say, it’s dirt only a mother could love!

Photo of earthworms in the compost.
I know this is a sign of good compost–fat, healthy earthworms!

HELP?!  Name that Insect!

When we were spreading out our compost, a bunch of these emerged from our bin.  What is this?  Is it beneficial or not?

Photo of unknown beetle
Can you help us identify this insect? Is it good that there were a lot of them in our compost pile or not?