How to Make Your Own Mulch: A Beginner's Guide for the Lazy Composter

By Little House on 29 September 2009 (Updated 1 March 2010) 8 comments

One thing I enjoy about my small garden is the fragrant smell of my lavender plants and the movement of the feather grass in the wind. I have become an avid small-garden and container gardener. In the process, I've also gotten very eco-conscious about what I put on my plants and in my garden. I began to research other gardening websites, specifically ones that discussed eco-friendly alternatives to fertilizers. The nitrogen in fertilizers isn't healthy on the environment. In excess, it is harmful to your soil and aquatic animals when the nitrogen-filled water is washed out to sea.

The more I researched, the more I realized that I could make my own "fertilizer," or mulch, using my kitchen waste! Not only do I reduce my kitchen garbage, I reuse it to benefit my plants. I also save money by not having to purchase additional nutrients or replace dead plants very often.  It's a three-for-one deal.

Picking your composter

I researched a variety of composters, from worm bins to plain old plastic tubs. I knew that as a beginner, I wanted to start with something easy, and something that wouldn't make me squeamish. There are a variety of composters that I had to choose from:

  • Worm Bins — This composter is filled with live worms and you can turn it with a handle. The worms will break down most kitchen food waste. You can place this composter inside a home or outside, but not in direct sunlight.
  • Earth Machine Composter — A black plastic composter with vents, a lid, and a small door for easy access to your mulch. You can put in some paper products, yard waste, and food waste, minus the meat and oils. This composter is an outdoor composter, it doesn't have a bottom.
  • Backyard Composter — Another outdoor composter, it is made up of stacks of plastic squares. You can take the top off the composter and make it the bottom, and vice versa. (This helps turn the compost.) It also composts yard clippings and food waste, minus the meats and oils.

Since my goal was to make composting easy on myself, I contacted my Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and found out they offered all three types of composters. One weekend a month, they offer a short seminar and sell their composters at various locations. Sometimes, they even give away free trees!

While browsing the composter selections, and examining them up close, I made some decisions; I didn't want to remove, restack, and re-shovel my compost, so I decided the backyard composter was just too much work for me. The worm bin made me a little squeamish, and I knew I wasn't ready for this composter yet. I finally decided that the Earth Machine Composter was the best choice for me. The removable lid makes it easy to add materials from the top.

What you can compost and how to care for your mulch

Having chosen the Earth Machine Composter, I was not only able to add food scraps to my compost, but also grass clippings and shredded paper. Most composters compost best when they have an even amount of "green" and "brown" waste added to them.

Green waste includes vegetable and fruit scraps from your kitchen, grass clippings, leaves and garden trimmings, and coffee and tea leftovers (including used filters and tea bags). Brown waste includes bread, wood chips, shredded paper, nut shells, and dry straw and pine needles. Having even amounts of each makes for a nutrient-rich mulch. These materials will also compost, or breakdown, better if they are in equal amounts. For instance, if there is too much shredded paper, or brown material, in your composter, it might take a long time for it to break down and may become dry.

I placed my Earth Machine right outside my back door: One tip of many, which is listed in a handy booklet that comes with the composter. Placing it close to an outside door is ideal. If you place it too far from your kitchen or house, you may not use it as often as you like. This makes it easy on you.

Another idea that I gleaned from various websites is that you want to keep a small trash can, preferably with a lid, to hold your kitchen scraps. This way throughout the week you can collect carrot tops, pepper cores, peeled potato skins, and any fruit or veggie left over in a sealed container, and only have to dump it into your composter once or twice a week. Having a lid on your container helps minimize gnats or any fermenting smell.

Once you start emptying your kitchen scraps and yard clippings into your composter, it's best to stir or turn it twice a week. Honestly, I'm a lazy composter, and I only turn it every two weeks or so. However, the more you turn your compost, the quicker you end up with mulch. If you're lazy, like me, it just takes longer for that end result.

Your compost should retain a consistency of a damp sponge, moist but not too wet. Moisture, or lack there of, is easily remedied by either adding water if your compost is too dry, or adding brown materials if it is too moist. I live in an arid region, so my problem is usually that my compost is too dry. When I water my plants, I try to add some water to my compost pile. Also, when I empty my small kitchen scrap container, I like to rinse it out with water. I use that water to dampen my compost.

Quick Tips

Some quick and handy tips for composting in the Earth Machine:

  • If you select an outdoor composter, keep it close to your house for easy access.
  • Turn or stir your compost weekly for best results.
  • Add water if your compost is too dry, add brown materials, like shredded paper, if your compost is too wet.

Your Garden will love you

What comes out of your composter is a nutrient-rich mulch that your plants will love. Mulch is usually ph balanced, so most plants will benefit from adding it to their soil — even plants in containers. Your kitchen garbage will be reduced, which means you won't be lugging trash bags to the curb as frequently. You'll save money because you won't need to purchase fertilizer as often for your garden and your plants will prosper. Finally, you can rest assured that any mulch that is washed into the storm drains won't harm aquatic animals.

Happy composting!

5
Average: 5 (2 votes)
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

8 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture

Pine needles are almost always a no-no for composting as their high acidity will throw your compost's pH balance off.

Guest's picture
croatian1

I would not put it too close to the house, even one that is turned often and has a lid can become smelly on hot summer days! I have mine by my garbage cans, I have to walk to put the regular garbage bags in there anyway, so to walk out my scraps for the compost is no big deal. I keep a small bucket under my sink, as you suggested for collecting the scraps, and then when it is full I walk it out back. Some times, depending on what the scraps are I empty it right away, some seem to smell stronger then others!

Guest's picture

I freeze my vegetable odds & ends and then dump them into the composter at convenient times. It reduces smell & mess in the kitchen.

Guest's picture
Guest

a large compost bin we built out by the veg garden - extremely easy to throw cuttings and clippings into. I also have a lovely bamboo compost container I keep on the kitchen counter and that can be carried out to the larger bin as needed. Anything that doesn't go to the chickens, goes into this.

Guest's picture
Sheila

My father was the original composter, and he never used a compost bin. He would dig a huge hole in the backyard (we had a lower backyard and an upper backyard so the garden area was in the upper backyard) and dump all our kitchen scraps in there, then shovel some dirt over it. I don't ever remember it smelling (although I was just a kid). He lived in that house from 1957 to 2003 and just kept digging holes. The dirt in the upper backyard was pretty incredible.

Guest's picture
Micah

Great post! This is very helpful. I'm sure I'd visit your site more often. Anyway, you can drop by my favorite online hang out too, at UK Student Community. Thanks!

Guest's picture

Thanks to everyone who left a comment! It sounds like there are other experienced composters who visit Wisebread. The freezing of the veggies sounds like a great idea, I'll have to try this tip.

thanks again-
Little House

Guest's picture
Guest

I use plastic bins to hold my worms. Go to instructables.com to find out how to make a low cost worm bin and let the composting begin!