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Make your garden POP … Secrets from a composting expert

A little wisdom from a composting guru can help you have the best garden on the block.

Brad Kuntz is a composting guru.

Truly.

He’s a former “Composter of the Year” for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

The backyard of his Charlotte home, which he shares with my sister, includes a wealth of tomatoes, melons, legumes, greens, and other fruits and vegetables. He’s probably the most prolific organic gardener I know.

So, when the opportunity came to write about getting started with composting (something I’m considering doing myself this spring), I knew immediately where I needed to turn. I reached out and asked Brad a few questions about composting, and here’s what he said.

Why would a homeowner want to compost—what’s the benefit?

You’ll reduce landfill waste and provide your garden with rich, organic compost for vegetables or other plants. Worms love compost, and having lots of worms in the garden means life is thriving and the tomatoes will taste extra good.

What’s the easiest way to get started—are there any resources you could recommend?

It can be as simple as a small circular or rectangular area, enclosed by chicken wire, where you pile leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, egg shells, and all vegetable and fruit wastes. Make sure there are ample amounts of “greens” (like grass or dehydrated grass chips from a feed store) and “browns” (leaves or most other plant material). Aim for about one-third green to two-thirds brown.

There are all kinds of tips online or from the local government. Here are a few examples:

(Side note: you may soon have a good option for indoor composting, thanks to this cleverly-designed device.)

For those planning to buy a compost bin, what should they look for?

Being able to aerate the compost is really important for it to work right. So, get something that allows a lot of air to enter, and something that either turns the compost or allows you to easily turn the pile with a pitchfork. The best ones roll or turn to mix the compost.

For those planning to make a bin, what should they make sure to do when they build it?

Again, air is really important. Make it so that it easily turns the contents, like a cement mixer or a rolling barrel, or allows easy access every few weeks for turning with a pitchfork or by hand.

What mistakes do people make when composting?

Three things, I think, are pretty common.

First they put in animal products other than egg shells. Stick with leaves, grass clipping, coffee grounds, egg shells, and all vegetable and fruit wastes.

Also, people sometimes get the ratio of greens to browns wrong—remember to have about one-third green material to two-thirds brown.

Lastly, they don’t turn the pile every few weeks. The air is important for the process to work.

Otherwise, it’s pretty simple.

How long have you been composting? Any “insider secrets” you don’t mind sharing?

I’ve composted since we bought our house in 1999. I started by going around and collecting several bags of leaves from the neighborhood curbs every fall, and I bought some dehydrated grass chips from the feed store. I prefer the leaves that break down fast (like maple leaves) as opposed to oak (very slow to break down).

I heard a story about a small problem you had with a worm bin.

The county set me up with the worms and a bin. I followed the instructions and added lots of newspaper and fruits and vegetables. I had to keep them in a warm, dark place, so I put them in a guest room. Well, I forgot to feed them for a while—maybe a month—and they made a great escape. I eventually found them all over the bedroom, mostly dead.

Those worms made the richest and best compost, but it took too long. I’d need to have about 100 times that bin to get a decent amount.

And with that advice in hand, I’m hoping my own backyard garden might come a bit closer to resembling Brad’s.

So, fellow gardeners, spring is here. What are your gardening secrets (regarding compost or otherwise)? Post in the comments below.