Composting

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Making your own compost is the easiest, yet most beneficial thing you can do for your garden and the environment. And best of all…It’s FREE!

Compost adds nutrient-rich humus which promotes plant growth and restores the needed minerals to depleted soil.

5 Top Composting Benefits

  1. Recycle kitchen and yard waste: Composting can reduce nearly 30% of household waste.

  2. Reduces landfill waste: Over one-third of all landfill waste is made up of compostable materials.

  3. Environment Friendly: Composting is a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.

  4. Soil conditioner: Compost creates rich humus for your garden. Adding nutrients to your plants and helping retain moisture in the soil.

  5. Introduces beneficial organisms to the soil: Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic material and ward off diseases.

Different composting materials will decompose at different rates but they will all break down eventually. To speed up the process, chop the larger material into smaller pieces. Leaves, grass clippings and sawdust, are also excellent for compost, but mix them in with other materials to keep them from matting together, which slows the composting process.

By adding a little garden soil to your compost, you will mask any possible odors, and allow micro-organisms from the soil to accelerate the composting process.

Do not compost meat, bones, weeds or diseased plants. Do not include cat manure in compost that will be used on food crops. Commercially grown fruit peels may contain pesticide residue, so it would be wise to keep them out of the compost as well.

For kitchen wastes, keep a container with a lid (such as an old ice-cream pail) beside the sink. Tear up any large chunks before you toss them in.

Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio

All compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen-based, to varying degrees. The secret to a healthy compost pile is to maintain a working balance between these two elements.

Carbon (Browns) – are carbon-rich materials such as branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bark dust or sawdust, shredded paper, corn stalks, coffee filters, egg shells, straw, peat moss, wood ash gives compost its light, fluffy body.

Nitrogen (Greens) – are nitrogen or protein-rich materials such as manures, food scraps, green lawn clippings and green leaves provides raw materials for making enzymes.

The approximate ratio is 2 (Browns) to 1 (Greens). But don’t get too hung up on accuracy. A healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen. The bulkiness of the brown materials allows oxygen to penetrate and nourish the organisms that reside there. Too much nitrogen makes for a dense, smelly, slowly decomposing mess. If in doubt, add more BROWN!

7 Steps to Composting

  1. Start with an clean, empty barrel, garbage can or you can make a pile on bare earth.

  2. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This helps it to drain and aerates your compost.

  3. Mix your compost materials, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients (Greens) are food scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, etc. Dry materials (Browns) are straw, leaves, sawdust and wood ashes. Mixing, or turning, the compost pile is key to aerating the composting materials.

  4. Add manure, young weeds or grass clippings as a nitrogen source. These ‘Activators’ will set your compost pile into motion and speed up the process.

  5. Keep compost moist. Water occasionally.

  6. Keep it Covered. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, as well as preventing raccoons and other pests from infiltrating your compost. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.

  7. Turn once a week. give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen.

COMMON ISSUES

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Compost pile steaming: Wonderful !!! A hot, steamy pile means that you have a large community of microscopic critters working away at making your compost.

Flying insects attracted to your compost: They can be discouraged by simply covering any exposed fruit or vegetable matter. Keep a small pile of grass clippings next to your compost bin, and when you add new kitchen waste to the pile, cover it with the clippings.

Unpleasant odors from your compost pile: This can be a concern in suburban areas with small lots and neighbors who live close by. Odors can be eliminated by remembering to not put bones or meat scraps into the compost and to cover new additions to the compost pile with dry grass clippings or leaves.

Soggy Compost: Add Browns and keep covered. Make sure that no additional water is getting into your compost.

Grass clippings matted together: This is a common problem when material is piled into the composter. Wet materials naturally stick together and slow the aeration process. So mix your Grass clippings and leaves with the rest of the composting materials for best results.

If you plan on having a compost bin, move it around each year because the soil beneath it is rich with nutrients! Now you have a bed of nutrient-rich soil ready for new plantings!

Compost should be used as a soil additive only, and not as the growing medium. It is very rich and, by itself, can be too powerful for your delicate plants.

KEEP THOSE FALL LEAVES!

Your brown materials, such as fallen leaves and straw, are carbon-rich materials that will balance the regular input of nitrogen-rich materials which come from kitchen scraps, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, grass clippings and other fresh materials.

Eliminate Weeds:

1. Make sure your compost is hot enough: Reach your hand into the center of the pile – it should be almost too hot for comfort. Ideally, the temperature should be between 130 – 150 degrees F. It takes about 30 days at 140 degrees to kill all weed seeds.

2. Mix your pile: Your compost will be hot in the center, while the outside is cooler, giving seeds a chance to survive. Mixing brings cooler material to the warmer area and also increases aeration which helps attain the higher heat levels. Compost barrels are very useful for this, that’s why I built mine!

Do you have compost? Do you have any ideas, tips or suggestions?

Participate in Community Homesteader and share your experiences with us!

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