My last article discussed vermicomposting, the process using earthworms, beneficial bacteria and other organisms to replicate nature's breaking down of vegetation and other organics. Now let's look at creating your very own rich compost without the aid of earthworms.
Composting is not a new idea. In nature, composting happens as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, the rotting leaves return to the soil, where living roots finish the recycling process by reclaiming the nutrients from the decomposed leaves.
Today, composting to turn organic wastes into a valuable resource is expanding rapidly in the United States and in other countries, as landfill space becomes scarce and expensive.
You can contribute to the 'composting revolution' by composting your own yard and kitchen wastes at home. As a composter, you can put considerable effort in your composting system, but composting is really a very simple process that needs minimal maintenance. Once you understand the basics, you can decide to choose a bin system to build or purchase (of course, just a pile of compost, which is the system discussed here, works just as well.) With an understanding composting needs, a spot for composting, and a few ingredients, you'll be ready to create your own a compost pile.
Good compost comes from providing the proper environmental conditions for billions of microbes (fungi, bacteria, etc.) that digest the yard and kitchen wastes (food) you provide for them. If your pile is cool enough, worms and insects will help out the microbes. All of these will slowly make compost out of your yard and kitchen wastes under any conditions. However, like people, these living things need air, water, and food to improve the compost's quality.
First you'll need to select a location for your compost pile. For appearances and good relations with your neighbors, you probably don't want to place your compost pile on your front lawn next to the mail box. (Your neighbors, and not to mention your mail man, will also appreciate a more behind-the-scenes location.) Instead, opt for the backyard near your garden.
Now that you're ready to start making compost, you need to know what materials can - and cannot - be used in your compost pile. The "cannot" list is a very short list that includes coal ash, colored paper, diseased plants, inorganic material, meat, bones , fish, fats, dairy, pet droppings and synthetic chemicals. The "can" list is pretty much all other organic material plus, shredded cardboard and newspaper.
When adding organic and other waste to your compost pile, don't squash the materials down. Squashing the contents squeezes out the air that the aerobic microbes need to turn your garbage into gold.
After you've added kitchen vegetable waste, throw some leaves or grass clippings on top of it. This keeps things balanced, reduces smells and makes your compost pile less attractive to critters looking for a free meal.
Make your pile no smaller than 3' x 3' x 3'. This is probably the perfect size. It's sufficient enough to "cook" your waste and transform it into compost, but not so large that it will become unmanageable and hard to turn.
Compost is finished when it's a dark, rich color, crumbles easily, and you can't pick out any of the original ingredients. It should have a sweet, earthy smell. If it's too stringy or lumpy, it may need more time. If this is the first time you've tried making compost, keep in mind that the amount of time can really vary. It can take anywhere from three to 12 months to produce compost. Quality compost depends on a number of things including temperature, what organic matter you used, how fine the waste material was chopped, how often you turned it, moisture content and more.
Once you have finished compost, you can use it in all of your garden projects without the fear of burning plants or polluting water. Happy and successful composting!
Don and Sandy Landers are owners of Dream Garden Hydroponics, LLC.