Autumn Composting: Turning Garden Debris Into Nutrient-Rich Soil

When autumn rolls around, we often wonder what we can do with the remains of our abundant summer – composting is the answer and your golden ticket to a thriving garden! 

Fall composting, the practice of recycling garden debris and organic materials, reduces waste and produces rich soil that promotes healthy plant growth. 

In this blog post, I’ll chat through the benefits of autumn composting and provide some tips to help you make the most of this important gardening practice.

garden beds

Reducing Waste By Composting

Fall marks the end of the growing season, leaving behind a wealth of plant debris, fallen leaves, and spent crops. Instead of getting rid of these materials, composting enables you to turn them into a valuable asset for your garden. Doing so reduces the amount of waste in landfills, helping make a more sustainable environment.

Nutrient-Rich Soil

Composting is a process that breaks down organic matter into nutrient-rich humus. This humus helps soil structure, improves water retention, and provides nutrients for plants. Incorporating compost into your garden beds during the autumn allows the soil to absorb these nutrients over the winter, leading to healthy plants in the spring.

soil and compost

Improving Soil Quality

Over time, soil can become depleted of nutrients. Adding compost helps improve soil structure, making it more crumbly and better aerated. This enhanced soil quality promotes better root growth and allows plants to access water and nutrients better.

Beneficial Microorganisms

Compost is teeming with helpful microorganisms that help soil health. These microorganisms further decompose organic matter, releasing nutrients in an easy to absorb form for plants.

greenhouse in the garden

Where is the best place for the compost container?

The ideal location for the compost container is a well-drained area that receives partial sunlight. Choosing a spot with good drainage helps prevent waterlogged compost, which can slow down the decomposition process and create an unpleasant odour. 

Partial sun is ideal because it encourages the composting process without causing too much drying. Placing the container in an area that is easily accessible for adding materials and turning the compost is also important.

Additionally, consider the ease of the location in relation to your garden activities and kitchen, as this can help regular composting habits.

plant pots and compost

How to properly layer compost? 

Properly layering compost is crucial to create a well balanced mixture that facilitates efficient decomposition.

Begin alternating between “green” and “brown” materials. Green materials encompass nitrogen-rich components like kitchen scraps, fresh plant cuttings, and coffee grounds. Brown materials, on the other hand, are carbon-rich elements such as dry leaves, straws, shredded newspaper, and small branches.

Start with a layer of brown materials at the bottom to provide aeration and drainage. Then, add a layer of green materials, making sure they are finely chopped to speed up decomposition.

As you continue layering, maintain an even ratio of roughly two parts brown materials to one part green material. This balance is crucial to achieve the proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for successful compost.

Aim for layers that are about 2-4 inches thick, and occasionally add a thin layer of soil or finished compost between the green and brown layers. 

This introduces necessary microorganisms that aid in the breakdown process. Remember that air circulation is vital, so avoid packing the layers too tightly. Proper layering, regular turning, and moisture management will contribute to a well-textured and nutrient-rich compost pile. This will benefit your garden in the long run.

What should you not put in a compost bin? 

These items can disrupt the composting process, introduce pests, or even contaminate the final compost. Here’s a list of things to avoid putting in your compost bin:

  1. Meat and Dairy Products: These items can attract pests and release odours as they break down. They also tend to decompose more slowly than plant based materials.
  2. Oily or Greasy Foods: Fats and oils can create a slimy and anaerobic environment in your compost, stopping decomposition and creating unpleasant smells.
  3. Diseased Plants: Plant materials that are diseased can harbour pathogens that may survive the composting process. They affect your garden when you use the finished compost.
  4. Weeds with Mature Seeds: If your compost doesn’t reach high temperatures, weed seeds may survive and grow when you use the compost in your garden.
  5. Pet Waste: Although composting allows for the utilization of manure from herbivorous animals, it’s advisable to exclude pet waste due to its potential for containing harmful bacteria.
  6. Coal or Charcoal Ash: These materials can contain toxins and chemicals that aren’t beneficial for your garden soil.
  7. Diseased or Pesticide-Treated Plant Material: Similar to diseased plants, materials treated with pesticides can carry bad chemicals into your compost.
  8. Plastics and Synthetic Materials: These materials do not break down naturally and can contaminate the compost with microplastics.
  9. Large Branches or Woody Stems: These materials take a long time to break down and may impede the decomposition of other materials in your pile.
  10. Citrus Peels in Excess: While small amounts of citrus peels are okay, excessive amounts can alter the pH of your compost.

Avoiding the above can create a more prosperous and productive composting experience while contributing to a healthy garden.

How do you know when compost is ready? 

You can determine when compost is ready by its appearance, texture, and smell. Finished compost should have a dark, crumbly texture and an earthy smell, resembling rich soil. It should no longer resemble the original materials you added. 

Additionally, any recognizable items, like leaves or food scraps, should be thoroughly broken down. The compost pile’s temperature will also stabilize and won’t generate heat during the active decomposition phase. 

Generally, composting takes several months, but these visual, textural, and olfactory cues indicate that your compost is ready to enrich your garden soil.

garden at night

Fall composting is a rewarding practice that transforms garden debris and organic waste into a valuable resource for your garden. 

By taking advantage of this season of change, you can reduce waste, enrich your soil, and promote healthier plant growth. 

Remember that composting is a patient endeavour, and the benefits you’ll reap in the spring make an effort well worth it. So, as you bid farewell to the colours of autumn, embrace the opportunity to nurture your garden from the ground up through fall composting.

If you would like to watch more videos and pick up some more garden tips, check out the Cottage Garden Playlist on YouTube, where you will find a new video every Sunday! Or click here for more garden posts.


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