Just as good garden planning can greatly help you to grow beautiful flowers or tasty vegetables, a good composting schedule can help to make your backyard composting operation successful. Because composting involves science, and some art, there are different opinions about what sort of scheduling works best. Truth be told, that diversity of opinion reflects one of the lovely things about making your own compost: You can figure out what’s going to work best for your composter.
Set a composting schedule like you might set any other goal, with an end or purpose in mind. For example, you may want to have as much finished compost as possible on hand in April to establish a brand new garden bed. If you live in a northern latitude, this may mean being sure to build a compost pile in the late summer, making compost before the much colder winter months. In most any location, setting a goal will help you plan to stockpile raw materials, like shredded leaves.
Once you have in mind a purpose for the compost, you might need to adjust the composting method you’ll be using to meet that schedule. A more intensive method, like a three-bin composter or backyard barrel composter, requires more of your time than a pile. The benefit for your schedule is that those methods also produce compost faster than most compost piles. Our experience has been that composting works best for many homeowners when there is space to combine a slower-decomposing compost pile with a smaller, more intensive method focused on making more compost in the warmer months.
Of course, composting doesn’t have to stop during the colder late fall and winter months. You can insulate a compost pile so that the temperature remains high enough to promote decomposition even after frost. But if you’re doing that, you’ll need to be sure that the pile or composter reaches the initial temperatures required for the most beneficial bacteria to turn raw organic matter into compost.
Here’s a general schedule for composting, one that can work across different methods and even different climates. Remember: A composting schedule is not set in stone. Consider using this as a starting point, experimenting over years to determine what works in your yard. One of the most enjoyable things about composting is to see what worked for someone else and customize it for your pile – or barrel, or three-bin unit, or worm bin….
In the fall months, September to November, focus on collecting brown materials – especially shredded leaves. If outdoor temperatures permit, build an initial pile and set composting in action to create finished compost in two to three months. In colder latitudes (or colder years!), focus on stockpiling browns in the fall for spring and summer. From December to March, insulate your compost pile or simply store finished compost in a dry location. Winter months are also a great time to learn how to compost using an indoor worm bin in a basement or heated garage or barn. Then, focus your composting efforts from March to September. Using the stockpiled shredded leaves, feed your composter or compost pile with the right proportion of carbon and nitrogen.
Remember: the temperature and moisture of the pile greatly influence decomposition according to any schedule, so be sure to regularly check pile moisture temperatures.