by Jill Manzoni of gardenofgood.com
Many think composting is difficult and unnecessary; after all, there is fertilizer and it is "right out of the bag!" Well avid believers in composting, can tell you the differences and it will be a full list. Let us just settle for the main three reasons to compost. 1. Think about tomatoes out of the garden versus from the grocer. The taste from composted vegetables and fruits, are much more rich and flavorful. 2. There are 85% more vitamins and nutrients. 3. No chemical additives (which kill nutrients and people).
Here is the easy way to know how to compost. Your goal is to build a compost pile, which provides the best possible conditions for the proliferation of those hard working micro herds which will turn your trash into treasure! These are micro sized organisms, which are found in rich soil or other compost piles. Helpful hint? Find the neighbor with the best compost pile, and ask to trade him a bucket or two of dirt. You can also find a commercial activator in bags at most garden supply stores. All they need to survive and thrive is a balanced diet, water, air, and warmth.
So what exactly can be thrown to our wonderful helpers? Anything of living origin can be (composted, but the quality and quantity of the materials you use affect the process and determine the nutrient value of the finished compost. Compost organisms require the correct proportion of carbon for energy and nitrogen for forming protein called the C/N ratio to function efficiently. If the C/N ratio is too high (excess carbon), decomposition slows down and nitrogen is depleted. Too low a C/N ratio (too much nitrogen) wastes nitrogen by letting it escape into the air, causing unpleasant odors, and into the water, creating pollution problems.
The ideal C/N ratio of 25:1 to 30:1 is readily reached by building your pile in alternating layers of high-carbon materials, such as sawdust, and high-nitrogen materials, such as fresh grass clippings. In general, high-carbon materials are brown or yellow and are dry and bulky. High-nitrogen materials tend to be green, moist, and often sloppy. If you find you have an abundance of either high- nitrogen or high-carbon wastes on hand, make the effort to locate ingredients that provide your micro herd with the right balance of nutrients.
Most organic materials supply a wide range of the other nutrients needed by compost organisms and plants. The greater the variety of materials you include in your compost, the greater your certainty of creating a nutritionally balanced product. Use additions of mineral-rich materials such as rock phosphate or greensand to tailor the nutrients in your compost to match the needs of your soil and plants.
Many new composters have found the odor turns them off from the practice. Odor is a sign that you need to adjust your pH. You may use the "instant fix", lime to moderate pH and odors, but it is not the desirable way. Here is why, when you mix manure (found in the best piles) lime causes the release of nitrogen into the atmosphere in the form of ammonia. This reduces the nitrogen that the organisms, and plants need. Therefore, you get rot, which causes the odor.
As it is the calcium supplied by lime that you are looking for, replace lime use, with additional supplies of crushed eggshells, bone meal, or wood ashes (not "treated" woods-known carcinogens), which also provide potash. Like lime, wood ashes are alkaline and will raise the pH of your compost. Use wood ashes in moderation to avoid high pH levels that inhibit microorganism activity and limit nutrient uptake by some plants.
There are some organic materials to avoid when composting. Human and pet feces may carry disease organisms; meat scraps or bones, and fatty materials break down very slowly and attract animals. Some wastes are contaminated with high levels of heavy metals, pesticide residues, or other highly toxic substances. If your composting plan includes industrial waste products, obtain a complete laboratory analysis for possible contaminants before you add such waste products to your pile.
All living organisms need water, but too much moisture drives out air, drowns the pile, and washes away nutrients. Good compost is about as damp as a moist sponge. There are several ways to control moisture levels in compost pile. Build your pile on a site that is well drained. If necessary, begin your compost pile with a bottom layer of sand or gravel to make sure the pile never has puddles. Sprinkle each layer with a watering can or garden hose as you construct the pile. The composting process requires water; check the moisture level every few days and, if necessary, add water when you turn your compost. Layer very wet, sloppy materials (fruit wastes, etc.) with absorbent ingredients such as sawdust or shredded dry leaves. Turn your pile to release excess moisture that prevents proper heating. Protect your pile from the weather. Compost in a covered bin, or place a layer of hay or straw or even a tarp over your pile. Shape your pile to work with weather conditions. In humid climates, a pile with a rounded, or convex, top repels excess water; a sunken or concave, top lets the pile collect needed water in dry climates.
Living organisms need air to survive. Supplying enough air to all parts of a compost pile to encourage thorough decomposition is perhaps the key to successful composting. Frequent turning is the most straightforward way to do this, but there are other aerating techniques to use in addition to or even in place of turning: Build a base of coarse material such as brush or wood chips under your pile to allow air penetration from below. Shred leaves, hay, and garden debris before composting. Use materials such as paper and grass clippings sparingly, because they tend to form impermeable mats when wet. Insert sticks into the pile when building it, then pull them out later to open air passages. You can also poke holes in the compost with a garden fork or crowbar. Bury perforated drainpipe at intervals in a passive compost pile as an excellent way to improve aeration. Sunflower stalks and straw also conduct air into the pile. However, do not use cornstalks, as they do not hollow out and decay properly. Limit the height and width of the pile to 51 to 6 feet to avoid compression. There is no limit on length.
Too large a compost pile interferes with aeration, but a minimum size of 3 feet in each dimension is needed in order for heating to occur. Given the proper C/N ratio, moisture, and aeration, your compost will heat up even in cold winter weather. A hot pile can reach temperatures of 160°F but will produce satisfactory results if it cooks along at about 120°F. Northern composters sometimes insulate their piles with hay bales or leaves to help composting continue throughout the winter.
The type of structure used for composting can vary greatly, depending on the materials available, the needs of the gardener, and the climate. A structure is not essential, but can be used you choose to hide your pile. They should be made of wood (non treated), plastic, concrete, bricks, wire, stones, or any durable weatherproof material.
About the AuthorFor nearly 50 years, Jill Manzoni has been living and teaching others how to live naturally, in an unhealthy world. A published author of health books, she has enjoyed receiving many Honorable Mentions for her work, found in publications all over the world. She now owns and solely maintains her website, GardenOfGood.com, writes for dozens of sites on the net, and is content leader for many of them. She is dedicated to her family first, then to helping others learn, earn and save money, or find success however she can help. Jill also teaches others to write, by showing them great resources as well as offering them opportunities to publish their work.