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kitchen garden basics
Published July 30, 2021 by Nicole Burke

The Basics of Composting in Your Own Backyard

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garden book
Nicole Burke of Gardenary with her compost

I’ve got a new gardening friend. Her name's Jenny. Jenny the Jora, to be exact. She’s my new composter. I splurged on Jenny as a birthday present to myself. Joras are quite an investment when it comes to composters, especially if you buy a larger one like I did. In this post, I’ll tell you a bit about the different ways you can compost right in your own backyard and why I went big with my Jora model. (By the way: this is not a sponsored post. I just really like this modelmore on that later.) 

In Chapter 4 of my book, Kitchen Garden Revival, I discuss the importance of organic matter in your soil. Compost is my favorite part of any soil blend. Actually, I’m pretty sure composting is going to save the planet! Compost absorbs a lot of water but drains quickly, all while maintaining nutrients for your plants.

Now that you know why you need compost, let’s talk about how you can create it yourself. 

here's my experience with different methods of composting: 

Composter Tower

When I first started gardening in Nashville, we received a free composter tower from our city. It was made out of plastic and not very tall. We popped it underneath our deck and loaded it with food scraps, rarely bothering to turn it. When it came time to move, we pulled out the tower, only to find there was a lot of food inside that hadn’t decomposed. We buried the scraps, feeling a little embarrassed, and left.

Barrel Composter

In Houston, I bought a rain barrel composter that I could flip to put in my yard, hoping to avoid issues with cockroaches and rats getting into an open pile. I added food and gardening scraps and turned it regularly. The problem was, I only had one compartment. I just kept adding waste and cranking away, but I never let it rest. We ended up dumping it out. Still no compost harvest. 

Yard Pile

Before I bought my Jora, I made piles in my backyard of kitchen scraps and yard waste. This route is obviously free (Yay!), but you do need to manually turn your decomposing scraps with a shovel or pitchfork. The more often you turn your compost, the hotter it's going to get and the faster it's going to change into compost you can use in your garden. With an open pile, pests can also become an issue. 

Dual-Chamber Composter

Jenny is a dual-chamber composter. I buy Joras for my Rooted Garden clients who want to compost, so this brand is tried and tested. The dual chamber prevents the issue I had with my single barrel composter by allowing you to fill one side and then let it rest while you switch to the other side. It has insulation to keep your compost hot, which means it’ll turn into organic matter faster. It also has an adjustable lock and a handle for turning. It’s still a bit of an arm workout, especially once the chambers are full. In fact, we encourage our kids to turn the handle as part of an obstacle course challenge we do in our backyard. Compost is heavy, y’all!

Nicole Burke of Gardenary with her compost

In addition to turning your compost frequently (there's your arm workout!) and letting it rest, you also want to add a mix of browns and greens. I usually toss in some dry or woody plant material (the source of carbon when they break down) every time I bring food scraps. I’m never short on greens (banana peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, pieces of vegetables, etc.). I am, however, sometimes short on browns. I saved a big pile of leaves in the fall, thinking I had enough to last all season, but I’ve run out. (This is one of the great losses of our “mow and blow” cultureleaves are so good for our gardens.)

My compost right now is a little wet because it needs more brown leaves. I can see coffee grounds and eggshells that are only starting to break down. While you want compost to be kept moist, you know you need more brown material if you see water drips along the edges. 

Now that we're spreading the wonders of composting, let's talk about creating a kitchen garden revival!

Kitchen Garden Revival

Somewhere in our manicured-lawn and fast food culture, we've lost the joy in growing our own food. It's time for a kitchen garden revival to help us create whole and happy lives and benefit not just our communities, but the whole world. Like I said, I think composting is going to save this planet! My book breaks down how to design and install your very own kitchen garden and fill it with the good stuff.

To me, there’s something magical about turning your food scraps into organic matter that will provide nutrients and help grow what you're going to eat from your kitchen garden next season. It just goes to show: the garden comes full circle and provides for you in so many ways. It even takes care of your waste for you!

Now, I’m off to find some leaves to help turn my gooey mess into compost.