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Growing your own fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to lead a more eco-friendly life. Beyond procuring more flavorful, healthy, and organic produce, you’ll come to understand and appreciate all the time and work that goes into growing food.But, when planting a new garden, don’t underestimate the importance of dirt! In order to thrive, your plants needs healthy, nutrient-dense soil. This good news is, you can grow your own healthy soil too! We collected tips from a few master gardeners to set you on your way to harvesting fresh produce from your own yard space with homemade compost. You’ll be making your very own garden-to-table meals with produce as local as it gets before you know it.

What You'll Need:

  • A 3’x3’ site (you don’t need a compost bin unless you live in a very rainy area or you prefer the look of it)
  • A shovel or two of garden soil
  • Lots of brown and green matter (see below!)

What you CAN add to your compost pile:

  • Brown matter, carbon-rich materials closer to decomposition
    • Dried leaves, hay, straw, sawdust, wood chips, dead flowers, and shrub and tree prunings.
  • Green matter, nitrogen-rich plant materials
    • Green weeds, fruit and vegetable scraps, cover-crop remains, fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, and uncomposted manure from cows, goats, horses, or poultry.
    • Sunset master gardeners warned against certain leaves, saying that “pine needles take longer to break down, while compounds in black walnut and eucalyptus leaves can inhibit growth in other plants; compost those greens only if you combine them with lots of other vegetative waste.”

What you should NOT add to your compost pile:

  • Animal products
    • Bones, meat scraps, dairy products
  • Plants with fungal diseases such as fire blight or verticillium
  • Seedy or rhizomatous weeds like purslane, Bermuda grass, or bindweed

What to Do:

  1. Cover your 3’x3’ site with 4-8 inches of thicker, coarser brown matter, like straw, cornstalks, or leaves.
  2. Add a layer of green matter, also 4-8 inches deep.
  3. Cover with garden soil.
  4. Add another layer of brown matter.
  5. Moisten all three layers with water.
  6. Repeat until the pile is about 3 feet high, trying to create a ratio of 3:1 of brown:green matter.
  7. Turn the pile every 2-4 weeks by moving the matter at the center of the pile to the outside with a garden fork or shovel. Check to make sure the pile is still moist, and add water if needed.
Once you start to see earthworms in the pile, and some steam release as you turn the pile (decomposition creates heat!), you’re on the right track. The center of the pile will begin to turn into black, crumbly compost which is what you want! This is your compost soil, and can be tilled into beds or used as mulch to enrich soil. Continue to add to your pile to maintain the 3'x3'x3' size.Happy gardening!