How to Start a Neighborhood Compost Garden

5 steps to make a compost and work with your community to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get to know your neighbors, start being a little more resourceful and “green” in your lifestyle and have vegetable gardens and flower beds that cause others to be jealous, all at the same time? There is! Start a neighborhood compost garden.

Starting a compost garden can seem like a lot of effort, but if you take the time to band together with other people and families in your neighborhood, you will see how simple it really is. Speed along the process of a having a finished compost pile with resources and a little teamwork from multiple households in your neighborhood by starting a neighborhood compost garden from which everyone will be able to benefit.

Step 1: Organize a composting group

Having three or four households contribute to your neighborhood compost garden will give you a good amount of organic material to add to your compost pile on a weekly basis. If you already have friends in your neighborhood, recruit them to be part of your compost system. Going door to door in your neighborhood with your compost garden idea is also a great way to meet those living around you and start some new friendships.

Step 2: Decide where to put the compost pile

The location of your compost pile is very important. Even though a large pile of organic material will eventually decompose on its own, the point of creating a compost garden in the first place is to speed up the process. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the best place for a compost pile is in a dry, shady spot near a water source so you can keep your compost pile damp, but not soggy. The location you choose should get some sunlight for at least half a day to help with the hot compost stage when the decomposition takes place. This type of location should be used whether you've got a store-bought compost bin, or are simply creating a compost pile on the ground surrounded by chicken wire.

Step 3: Determine what to put in the compost pile

According to the experience of Garden Organic, the UK’s leading organic growing charity founded in 1954 by horticulturalist Lawrence D. Hills, meats, dairy and some cooked food, which attract pests, should not be used in your community compost pile. Raw vegetable peels, tea bags, coffee grounds, popcorn, stale bread, egg shells, fruit rinds and nut shells are all examples of nutrient-rich additions to your compost pile. In addition to kitchen scraps, “browns” should be added to your compost, which include shredded magazines, newspapers, cardboard boxe, and junk mail. The “brown” additions are slow to rot and contribute to the decomposition process.

Step 4: Solicit regular contributions to the neighborhood compost pile

If everyone adds their own compost contributions to the compost system once or twice a week, you will have a large, nutrient-rich compost pile in just a few months.

Step 5: Put your neighborhood compost to use in your neighborhood garden

Once you’ve got fully "cooked" compost from your neighborhood compost pile, decide with your neighbors on where and what to plant in your neighborhood garden. When you've decided where you’d like to put your flower or vegetable garden, start by tilling the soil. When planting a neighborhood vegetable garden, the NYC Compost Project recommends putting several inches of compost on top of the tilled soil, or you could place a handful of compost in each hole you've dug for vegetable seeds.

Once the vegetables begin to grow, add a 50/50 mixture of compost and soil to fertilize the new growths. For a flower garden, mix about an inch of compost with the top couple layers of soil. Then, add an inch of compost to the top of the soil around mature flower plants to keep the soil rich with nutrients. Follow this simple strategy for creating your own neighborhood compost garden, and see how easy it is to make a beneficial change around your home!

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