Composting. The single best thing that you can do for your garden.
There is a process that can improve the yield and quality of your garden, save money, provide a way to deal with food scraps and yard trimmings, and protect your environment.This process is called composting.
Composting converts food scraps and yard trimmings from just another burden on our overflowing landfills into a boon for your vegetables, herbs, shrubs, and flowers.
An added bonus is that you are also contributing to the health of our planet.
What is composting?
Composting is the breakdown of organic matter (food scraps, yard trimmings, sawdust, coffee grounds, etc.) through the activities of insects and microbes. These tiny sanitation workers convert your organic waste into nutrient-rich humus. This nurtures plants better and more safely than any commercial soil amendment
Benefits of composting.
Composting is a way in which you can give to the planet that just keeps on giving back.
As I stated before, there is no better soil amendment on the market than the properly composted scraps and trimmings that would otherwise end up filling our landfills.
Also, when you avoid commercial products you are also avoiding packaging that would likely end up in those same overfull landfills.
The nutrients from the compost that you create goes straight into your soil, through your garden plants and onto your plate. No pesticides, no antibiotics, no chemical additives or preservatives.
The compost will not burn your plants as will some of the commercial fertilizers and amendments.
What does your compost pile need?
There are several methods to composting. You can build your own composting bin, or there are many good commercial products on the market today, some of which can make the process convenient and quick.
I will look at some of these and review them in a later post, but you need nothing more than a tarp and a four-foot by four-foot area to get started.
A compost pile needs four components to work properly, and the mix will dictate the speed with which your compost will decompose and be ready to use.
The first ingredient is Nitrogen. Grass clippings, vegetable and fruit and plant matter, coffee grounds and tea. Also manure from chickens, turkeys, cows and horses can add the needed nitrogen.
The second ingredient is carbon, and good sources for this is the brown lawn and garden material such as dry leaves, twigs, hay, and shredded paper or cardboard. Untreated wood chips and cardboard are very rich nitrogen sources.
The third ingredient is water. One of the most common mistakes when composting is to keep your pile too wet or too dry.
The pile should have a 40% moisture content to 60 %, or like a lightly wrung sponge. If you squeeze a handful and get a few drops of water you are probably good.
During dry weather you will have to water the pile regularly.
The pile should be covered to retain moisture during the hot weather and to keep the pile from becoming soggy and cooling during the rainy weather.
The fourth ingredient that your compost will need to properly decompose is air. If the pile is too dense or becomes too soggy, the beneficial organisms required for the process will die.
This can slow the process considerably and may cause the pile to develop an offensive odor. Turning and fluffing the pile will avoid these problems, as will proper construction of your pile.
If your pile becomes too soggy don’t despair. Just turn and fluff the pile. You could add some dry materials while you turn the pile and mix them in. Composting is a forgiving process.
Feed Your Pile
Like any bustling metropolis, your community of composting fauna needs to have proper planning, organization, and housing. You will want to add the green and the brown materials, alternating by weight. This means that the volume of the layers of brown material will be larger to match the weight of the green, likely about three to one by volume, the brown material being the larger volume.
Your pile will be one of two types; the casual pile, to which you add as you collect materials and wait for the natural process to break down the materials, or the active pile, with which you begin with all the ingredients and turn regularly to speed decomposition of the compost.
The casual pile can take up to eight months to be ready to use as compost.
The active pile will be ready in as few as eight to twelve weeks.
What you can compost.
Put into your pile.
- Grass clippings a green source
- Vegetable and fruit scraps a green source
- Coffee grounds and tea bags a green source
- Manure from Turkeys, chickens, horses and cows a green source
- Spent plants from your garden and plant trimmings (No diseased plants or seeds unless your pile will heat beyond 150 degrees F) a green source
- Used potting soil a brown source
- Newsprint and corrugated cardboard (Shred & soak first.) a neutral source
- Leaves a brown source
Keep out of your pile.
- Weeds and grasses that have gone to seed
- Larger branches and wood chunks
- Overly soggy materials (let it dry first)
- Wood ashes or BBQ charcoal
- Meat, grease, bones, or skin
- Dairy products and fatty foods
- Solid dog, cat, or human waste
- Plastic, metal or glass
- Organic matter contaminated with pesticides, herbicides or other chemical additives
- Heavy cardboard (shred first)
Review the Benefits
I cannot stress enough the positive outcomes of home composting.
Composting cuts down on the amount of garbage that you pay to have removed.
You reduce the cost of maintaining your garden.
Your plants receive the nutrients that create large, healthy harvests.
You can control the makeup of your soil amendments, assuring the purity of the foods you are eating.
Compost, done right, produces rich, fertile soil with little or no odors and provides multiple benefits for you and your loved ones, and for your planet. I will, in coming weeks, be expounding a bit on some of the things that I have touched upon in this article, for those of you who, like me, like to dig a little deeper into the reasons and ramifications for the things that I find to be important.