Your garden's future is revealed not by looking at the stars, your palm, or tea leaves but by looking in your compost pile. We've seen countless bins, tumblers, and heaps, talked to the gardeners who filled them, and classified them all into this zodiac. Then we asked experts for hints about how to make the most of your composting style. Whether you are detail-oriented or devil-may-care, a master decomposer or a total newbie, we predict you will strike it rich—with black gold, the best soil builder for your flower and vegetable beds.
Profile: You dump and run, emptying the kitchen scrap bucket only when the stink or the fruit flies overwhelm you. You think you turned your pile once. You think.
Advice: Lucky for you, "compost happens," says Lewis Shell, compost instructor with the Maryland Home and Garden Information Center. You can toss items onto the pile whenever you have them, and you'll get finished compost in about a year. If one day you are struck with a small burst of motivation, get a 2- to 3-foot length of PVC pipe, punch a few holes into it (or easier yet, get perforated pipe), and stick it into your pile. It will bring air to the middle of the pile, which is what those overachievers are doing when they turn their piles.
Profile: You weigh grass clippings and leaves before adding them to the pile. You chart the pile's temperature readings to plot exactly when to turn it.
Advice: The ideal carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio for a compost pile is 30:1. At higher ratios, the decomposition process slows, Shell explains, while lower ratios cause the pile to get a strong, ammonialike odor. The trick to getting the exact ratio is to mix ingredients in the right balance. Grass clippings have a C:N of about 16:1, while sawdust is about 400:1. Check OrganicGardening.com for the C:N ratios of common compost ingredients; then get out a calculator when building your pile.
Profile: You've tried every recipe for fast compost, and you still want to make compost quicker.
Advice: The trick to accelerating decomposition is particle size. The finer the pieces you add to your heap, the more quickly they break down. Put leaves and yard waste through a shredder (or power over them with your lawn mower) and run kitchen scraps through a food processor before adding them to your pile.
Profile: You cultivate sources of specific ingredients--coffee grounds from the Whole Foods store, fur from the pet groomer, stable bedding from the alpaca farm. You are certain each will transform your heap into a pile of 24-karat black gold.
Advice: If you want to gild your compost by adding soil amendments (like bonemeal), "add them when the compost is finished and ready to be used in the garden," advises Janet Moreland, master composter with the Riverside County (California) Waste Management Department. "Otherwise, the additives decompose and lose their valuable nutrients."
Profile: You imagine disease-carrying animals tearing through your pile and destroying it.
Advice: "A compost pile may attract moles, voles, and snakes, but these critters won't ruin the pile," Shell says. If you worry about dogs, raccoons, or rats, use an enclosed compost tumbler.
New for your e-reader or tablet: Compostology 1-2-3.
Profile: You believe in the world unseen and the mysterious power of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) to create a spiritual connection between you and your soil.
Advice: Water is an oft-forgotten but essential element for making compost. "Water helps to create an environment for the fungi and bacteria," Moreland explains. The ideal moisture content of working compost is 60 percent—about the same as a wrung-out sponge.
Profile: You grab plastic bags full of leaves set by the curb. When the circus comes to town, you're excited to snag a load of elephant flops for your pile.
Advice: To store materials until you want to use them, make a cylinder with a 10-foot length of 3-foot-tall wire mesh fencing. Freeze kitchen scraps until you are ready to put them in your pile.
Profile: You know that the bacteria and fungi in your compost pile are its most valuable asset.
Advice: Add a wide variety of ingredients to your pile to ensure that you have a diverse microbe population, says Mark Hutchinson, a University of Maine extension educator. The microbes exist in nature, so add a shovelful of soil or compost to a new pile instead of buying a commercial activator.
Profile: You have access to tons of ingredients. You try to produce all the compost you need, but you never seem to get enough.
Advice: A three-bin system, with each bin at a different stage of decomposition, is the most efficient way to process a lot of material, says Monica Ozores-Hampton, Ph.D., a research associate at the University of Florida.
Profile: You've heard about the value of compost and you want to make it. How do you start?
Advice: Layer 3 or 4 inches of "green" materials like grass clippings and 4 to 8 inches of "brown" materials like dried leaves, add water, and then turn the pile a week later. Add new ingredients as you get them, and turn the pile every other week. Learn how to start composting.
New for your e-reader or tablet: Compostology 1-2-3.
Profile: Why bother, you ask, with making compost when you can buy organic fertilizer?
Advice: Compost holds twice its weight in moisture that it slowly disperses to plants' roots. Compost captures pollutants in the soil that could wash into your drinking water. The microbes in compost attack disease organisms in the soil before they get to your plants. Can you get all of this from a bag? Hardly.
Profile: You believe that composting is the secret to successful gardening and a solution to the world's waste-disposal problems.
Advice: You are one of the Chosen Ones, called to give away your riches. Give a bag with a scoop of your finest compost to unenlightened gardeners you meet. They can use it to start their first piles. And they will discover that compost is a nearly unlimited resource and that making it themselves can be its own reward.