If youre a gardener then you should not mind getting y our hands dirty. In this line of work, you need to handle plants, soil, rocks, fertiliser, soil conditioners, etc. and not all times a pair of gardening gloves is handy. At times using glove can prevent you handling some delicate stuff. In this case, you have to get down on your knees and get your hands dirty. And nothing is dirtier that making compost.
Composting is a the process were biodegradable materials, usually manure and household wastes, are turned into soil-like output by combining them with a little air, water and nitrogen. Is that too technical for you? Well compost is a dark, crumbly, soil-like substance which functions as soil conditioner, mulch, and fertilisers. It feed your garden soil the microorganism that most plants need to grow healthy and strong.
When making your own compost pile, it would be ideal to find a place near your garden and yet it has enough concealment to not affect the overall look of your garden. Does that make sense? Just like one of the famous movies say hiding in plain sight. If such is the case, a cleverly painted compost bin would help make the area neater. A corral or a fenced area would do fine.
Setup a compost area
After setting up your composting area, you start composting by arranging a 3:1 ratio of brown and green organic materials. Green ingredients contain lots of nitrogen while the brown elements contain lots of carbon. Together, they form the basic foundations of a compost file. The green organic components of gardening include grass clipping while the brown components are the dry leaves and other wood products.
If youre worried about the possible bad smell that would come out of your compost pile, then dont. When the ratio of greens and browns is correct, you dont have to worry of any bad smell from your compost pile. Compost should have this earthy smell and not smelling like rot. If you smell the later then there could have been some things that might have been included in the pile or the ratio of the greens and browns components is not correct.
One way to make certain that your compost pile has jus the right combination of greens and browns components, is to get a pile of green material and put it in you compost bin. Follow it up with two piles of brown materials. Keep this gong until you have a nice pile of leaves and grass that measures about three feet. At this high, you probably have a base measuring 3 feet also. One good thing of having this large a compost pile is that the greens and browns can easily and quickly break down.
If you want, you could add in a bucket of already finished compost to the newly formed pile. This will help start the process and begin the microbial activities in your compost pile.
Compost pile needs moisture
Make sure that you add enough moisture to the pile as well. Keeping the compost pile damp will help quicken the breakdown the organic materials. Add water to the pile and feel a sample. It should be damp, somewhat like a sponge. See, I told you your hands will have to get dirty.
There is a need to turn over your compost pile at least once a week to keep it loose allowing air into the pile and quickens the process of decomposition. After two months, you should have decent quality compost by now. The original materials you used should no longer be recognisable.
As you can see, making compost is quite easy and requires not too much of your time.
Deciding what to add to your compost begins with understanding what different kinds of organic materials bring to the microorganisms that will be breaking them down. All living things—or things that have once been alive—contain carbon and nitrogen, and this carbon and nitrogen is what microbes consume to cause decomposition. Carbon is used give the microbes energy to do their job, and nitrogen is essential for them to grow and reproduce. Making sure that your microorganisms have all the food that they need to keep active and reproducing is essential to fast composting.
Different types of organic waste have different levels of carbon and nitrogen. Each thing that you can add to your compost can be either high in carbon or high in nitrogen, and with each addition of these items to your compost, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen can change. Knowing how much carbon and nitrogen you’re adding to your compost is important—the recommended ratio of carbon to nitrogen is about 30:1. This is the ideal ratio for decomposition speed and the reduction of foul odours. Items high in carbon are referred to as “browns,” as they are mostly comprised of dry or dead materials. Organic waste that is high in nitrogen are called “greens,” and include living or moist plant materials. The table below shows common examples of compostable materials into the brown and green categories:
High in Nitrogen
High in Carbon
Vegetable and fruit scraps
Used coffee grounds
Dead, dry leaves
Used tea leaves and bags
Newspaper and paper bags
Live plants and trimmings
Horse and cow manure
Fresh lawnmower clippings
Dried lawnmower clippings
This is an extremely brief list when you consider all of the organic materials that exist in the world, and with some research, you will discover many more materials that are compostable, including some that may surprise you (did you know that you can compost hair, nail clippings, and certain brands of dryer sheets?).
Unfortunately, just because a material is organic doesn’t mean it should be composted. In your research to become more familiar with what you can compost, you are bound to run into some discussion about the things you can’t. Certain organic materials can not only slow the decomposition of your compost, but they may also be harmful to you and your plants. These are a few items you should consider before introducing them to your compost:
Why to Avoid
Meat and bone
Meat and bone are very slow to decompose as they do so anaerobically. While it is possible to compost meat, it takes a lot of attention and time, and the stench it will produce can cause a rodent and maggot problem. It’s recommended by most that the home composter steer clear of meat.
Like meat, attempting to compost dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, or milk will cause an extremely foul odor very quickly, attracting creatures you definitely don’t want in your compost.
Droppings can totally be composted. Manure from herbivores like horses, rabbits, cows, and sheep is an excellent source of nitrogen for your compost and nutrients for your plants. Droppings from carnivorous animals, however, may contain bacteria or disease that can make you very sick. While dog and cat waste can be composted (as can human waste via composting toilets), it is unsafe to use in an edible garden.
Sawdust is compostable, and if you are well acquainted with the source of the sawdust, you can use it to bump up the carbon in your compost. The problem with sawdust and other little shavings and bits of wood is that a lot of it tends to come from projects around the home wherein treated wood may have been used. Pressure-treated wood contains toxic chemicals, and should not be put into compost. If you are not sure about whether or not your leftover wood is hazardous, do not use it.
Oily or cooked food
Oils are also slow to break down, as are any foods that were cooked in them or produced them when cooked. Oils and oily food will putrefy and stink, like meat and dairy, inviting pests to come and poke around in your compost.
Again, these are only a few of the items that are up for debate bycomposters, so be aware of what you are putting into your composter to achieve the highest quality and safest product for you and your garden.
As spring approaches, you may consider creating your own compost to make sure that your flowers, fruits, or vegetables are vibrant and healthy this year. Beginning a compost bin is an excellent idea for any gardener, regardless of experience—once installed, your compost bin or composter won’t require a ton of attention, as nature has been recycling waste this way without help for quite a while. Making your own compost will benefit the environment, convert your food and yard waste into saved money on fertilisers, and it will turn your hard work outdoors into higher and better yields from your plants.
Composting is a huge hobby. There are a ton of tools and products on the market to help you get the most out of your composter or compost bin. If you are just getting acquainted, searching the internet for equipment and accessories might be overwhelming, so here is a list of equipment you might consider as you set out to begin composting:
In reality, there are only two things that you need to start composting: a spot in the yard and time. The compost pile method (picking an inconspicuous corner of your yard, enclosing it in chicken wire, and heaping all of your grass clippings, dead leaves, and uneaten salads in it) does work, but isn’t optimal. Organic waste simply left to rot in a pile, on top of smelling awful and attracting pests, takes an extremely long time to decompose due to lack of aeration. Even if a gardener is committed to turning a pile for aeration, it may still take several months before usable compost is produced.
For these reasons, it is highly recommended that you purchase a compost bin or composter. These have been designed to succeed where the traditional compost pile fails, specifically in insulation and aeration. Heat and oxygen are essential to the composting process; aerobic microbes require good airflow to survive, and heat attracts bacteria that breaks down waste. These microbes will move much faster, producing more nutrients and limiting potentially harmful gas byproducts. By using a composter, usable compost can be produced in several weeks instead of several months, some models allowing you to produce compost continuously throughout the growing season.
There are a variety of different composters and bins available. You may want a simple upright bin to neatly store and cover your compost, keeping it warm and venting air through the material. These composters can range from very simplistic canisters to more elaborate tiered bins designed to separate your compost as it matures. Another popular type of composter is a tumbler, an insulated drum usually sitting on some kind of frame. A crank or rotation mechanism allows you to turn the drum and tumble the contents inside, keeping them aerated and mixing. If you are really interested in organic gardening or seeing nature at work, you might want to compost with worms. Worm composters use a system of shelves through which worms can pass as you add food and yard waste to be composted. Worms travel up through the composter to access the waste and break it down. All of these methods are effective at reducing composting time, odor, and pest interest—which one you pick depends on you and your requirements. Luckily, there are composters of each type available in varying sizes, even for the smallest yard or garden.
If you have chosen an upright compost bin, you will need a tool or possibly a variety of tools to make sure that your compost is well-mixed and aerated. Rakes, pitchforks, shovels, and augers could all be useful tools for breaking up, aerating, and transporting compost, particularly in a large bin or composter. If you would like the ease and effectiveness of a more specialised tool, there are aerator tools designed to make mixing and pulling and twisting a lot easier on your body. These have handles, and usually some sort of blades or wings on the end that will agitate your compost and save your back from a lot of bending and lifting.
Activators and Accelerators
Should you ever find that your compost just isn’t coming together, there are additives you might consider purchasing to give your compost a jumpstart or to get the decomposition process to move a little faster. Compost activators and accelerators can be liquids, powders, or pellets, and can be made of any number of ingredients. Commonly, they are made of bone meal, blood, fish, manure, or alfalfa—the common thread is that the ingredients are high in nitrogen. Compost requires maintenance of a good nitrogen to carbon ratio, and should either of these be too high or too low, decomposition can slow.
Typically, nitrogen is the lacking ingredient, and most additives seek to remedy that problem. They can also contain excess microorganisms to add to those already at work in your compost bin. These products are supposed to boost the activity and population of your microbes, heat up your compost, and get things moving much more quickly.
As was mentioned, the temperature of your compost is extremely important to the decomposition process. In order for the microorganisms in your compost to break down waste fast, they need heat. The generation of this heat occurs in stages with different microorganisms active in each stage. If your compost is monitored with a thermometer, you will know exactly when to turn your composting material, as it will inform you of drops in temperature indicative of diminished oxygen. A thermometer will allow you to assess the effectiveness of additives on your compost. It can also simply tell you whether your composter is keeping your material at the desired temperature at all. When it comes to making an extremely hot and fast compost bin, a thermometer is a great guide to perfecting your composting. Compost-specific thermometers are long enough to penetrate the centre of the compost and made of weather-resistant materials.
Maintaining a good level of moisture in your composter or bin is also very important to speedily producing good compost. Like oxygen, your microorganisms require a good deal of moisture to do their job. Too much moisture can cause your compost to become heavy and soggy, blocking off oxygen access and slowing decomposition. It can also make your compost stink, attracting unwanted rodents and flies. Too little moisture will dry your compost waste up and prevent your microorganisms from breaking it down quickly or at all. It is suggested that you try and keep your compost between 40-60% moisture to achieve best results, and purchasing a moisture meter can help you ensure that it stays in that range. Moisture meters, similar to thermometers, have long probes that are inserted into the compost to take moisture readings. While this may seem like a pretty specialised tool, picking up a moisture meter may be a good move for your garden in general. Moisture meters can be used to check the soil in your garden and flowerbeds, letting you know when your plants need more water or if your hose or sprinkler system may have sprung a leak.
These are only a few of the basic tools available to you to start your home composting setup. Kitchen caddies, canisters, and storage containers with filters or liners help you reduce odour and trips to your outdoor composter. Food and yard waste shredders will perform part of the decomposition work for your microorganisms, breaking down compostable materials into smaller pieces and increasing compost speed even more. A spreader might help you distribute a finished compost on your lawn or garden, particularly if it is large. Though these are all handy, different gardens have different needs, and not all of the tools and accessories may appeal to you. If you are just starting out, there is a lot of information about composting and composting tools online. Feel free to peruse several of these products and others at MasterGardening.com, and let us help you and your compost make your garden healthy and beautiful.