Making Compost

Most gardeners have long understood the value of this rich, dark, earthy material in improving the soil and creating a healthy environment for plants.

Understanding how to make and use compost is in the public interest, as the problem of waste disposal climbs toward a crisis level.

Landfills are brimming, and new sites are not likely to be easily found. For this reason there is an interest in conserving existing landfill space and in developing alternative methods of dealing with waste.

Don’t throw away materials when you can use them to improve your lawn and garden! Start composting instead:
Compost is the end product of a complex feeding pattern involving hundreds of different organisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects. What remains after these organisms break down organic materials is the rich, earthy substance your garden will love.

Composting replicates nature’s natural system of breaking down materials on the forest floor. In every forest, grassland, jungle, and garden, plants die, fall to the ground, and decay. They are slowly dismantled by the small organisms living in the soil. Eventually these plant parts disappear into the brown crumbly forest floor. This humus keeps the soil light and fluffy.

Humus

Humus is our goal when we start composting. By providing the right environment for the organisms in the compost pile, it is possible to produce excellent compost. We usually want to organize and hasten Mother Nature’s process. By knowing the optimum conditions of heat, moisture, air, and materials, we can speed up the composting process. Besides producing more good soil faster, making the compost faster creates heat which will destroy plant diseases and weed seeds in the pile.

Compost Materials

Almost any organic material is suitable for a compost pile. The pile needs a proper ratio of carbon-rich materials, or “browns,” and nitrogen-rich materials, or “greens.” Among the brown materials are dried leaves, straw, and wood chips. Nitrogen materials are fresh or green, such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps.

The Five Key Factors

To make an effective efficient compost pile, you need to consider these five key factors:

Food

The 50/50 Rule: A perfect mixture of material consists of ? brown (carbon-based material) and ? green (nitrogen-based) material by weight.

Air

To Turn or Not to Turn: The organisms that live inside your compost bin need air to survive. Mix or turn the pile three to five times per season using a pitchfork, garden hoe or shovel. Proper aeration can make a big difference. You will know if your bin is not getting enough oxygen if the pile smells of ammonia.

Water

Moist, Not Damp: The organisms need water to survive, but not too much or they will drown. The ideal moisture level of your compost pile should be like that of a wrung out sponge.

Surface Area

Small is Best: Cutup or shred organic waste materials before placing them into the compost bin. This increases the surface area and speeds up decomposition. You can also store your kitchen scraps in your freezer to speed up decomposition, as your materials break down at the cell level when frozen.

Bin Volume

Not Too Big: A bin that is too small cannot retain enough heat. If the bin is too large, it won’t get enough air to the centre of the pile. It is also easier to manage two or three medium bins that one large one.

You can build a compost bin yourself out of new or recycled materials, or you can buy one at a home or garden centre.