|Composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus which fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. It’s also free, easy to make and good for the environment.||
|Soil conditioner: With compost, you are creating rich humus for lawn and garden. This adds nutrients to your plants and helps retain moisture in the soil.
Recycles kitchen and yard waste: Composting can divert as much as 30% of household waste away from the garbage can.
Introduces beneficial organisms to the soil: Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off plant disease.
Good for the environment: Composting offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.
Reduces landfill waste: Most landfills in North America are quickly filling up; many have already closed down. One-third of landfill waste is made up of compostable materials.
|What to Compost|
|You can also add garden soil to your compost. A layer of soil will help to mask any odors, and micro-organisms in the soil will accelerate the composting process.
Do not compost meat, bones or fish scraps (they will attract pests), perennial weeds (they can be spread with the compost) or diseased plants. Do not not include pet manures in compost that will be used on food crops. Banana peels, peach peels and orange rinds may contain pesticide residue, and should be kept out of the compost. Black walnut leaves should not be composted. Sawdust may be added to the compost, but should be mixed or scattered thinly to avoid clumping. Be sure sawdust is clean, with no machine oil or chain oil residues from cutting equipment.For kitchen wastes, keep a container with a lid and a handle under the sink. Consider using a stainless steel compost pail with air filter, or the ceramic model. If you don’t mind occasional smells, use an old ice-cream pail. Chop up any large chunks before you toss them in. When the container is full, take it out to your composter and toss in the contents.
With yard and garden wastes, different composting materials will decompose at different rates but they will all break down eventually. If you want to speed up the composting process, chop the larger material into smaller pieces. Leaves and grass clippings are also excellent for compost, but should be sprinkled into the bin with other materials, or dug in to the center of the pile and mixed. Avoid putting them on in thick layers – they will mat together and reduce aeration, which slows the composting process.
|How to Compost|
|1. Start your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to your garden beds.
2. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
3. Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc. Dry materials are straw, leaves, sawdust pellets and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.
4. Add manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.
5. Keep compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job.
6. Cover with anything you have – wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered by rain. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.
7. Turn. Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen. You can skip this step if you have a ready supply of coarse material, like straw.
Once your compost pile is established, add new materials by mixing them in, rather than by adding them in layers. Mixing, or turning, the compost pile is key to aerating the composting materials and speeding the process to completion.Note: If you want to buy a composter, rather than build your own compost pile, you may consider a buying a rotating compost tumbler which makes it easy to mix the compost regularly.
All compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen-based, to varying degrees. The secret to a healthy compost pile is to maintain a working balance between these two elements.
|Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust pellets, shredded brown paper bags, corn stalks, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, straw, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body. Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, green lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes.|
|A healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen. A simple rule of thumb is to use one-third green and two-thirds brown materials. The bulkiness of the brown materials allows oxygen to penetrate and nourish the organisms that reside there. Too much nitrogen makes for a dense, smelly, slowly decomposing anaerobic mass. Good composting hygiene means covering fresh nitrogen-rich material, which can release odors if exposed to open air, with carbon-rich material, which often exudes a fresh, wonderful smell. If in doubt, add more carbon!
|Simplest Composting Methods|
|~ “No-turn” composting
The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.
The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than with turned compost.
|~ Composting leaves
If you have too many leaves to incorporate into the compost bin, you can simply compost the pile of leaves by itself. Locate the pile where drainage is adequate; a shaded area will help keep the pile from drying out.
The leaf pile should be at least 4′ in diameter and 3′ in height. Include a layer of dirt between each foot of leaves. The pile should be damp enough that when a sample taken from the interior is squeezed by hand, a few drops of moisture will appear. The pile should not be packed too tightly.
The pile will compost in 4 – 6 months, with the material being dark and crumbly. Leaf compost is best used as an organic soil amendment and conditioner; it is not normally used as a fertilizer because it is low in nutrients.
|~ Leaf-mould tea
You can also use leaves to make a nutrituous “tea” for your plants. Simply wrap a small pile of leaves in burlap and immerse in a garbage can or large bucket of water. Leave for three days, then remove the “tea bag” and dump contents into the compost. Scoop out the enriched water with a smaller bucket and use to water your plants and shrubs.
|Enclosed Compost Bins|
|For small-scale outdoor composting, enclosed bins are the most practical. The least expensive method is to build one yourself from a heavy-duty garbage can. Simply drill 1.5-cm aeration holes in rows at roughly 15-cm intervals around the can. Fill the can with a mixture of high-carbon and high-nitrogen materials. Stir the contents occasionally to avoid anaerobic pockets and to speed up the composting process. If the lid is secure, the bin can be laid on its side and rolled; a length of 2″ cedar ( use a 2×2 or a 2×4) can be bolted to the inside, running top to bottom, to help flip the material. Without this, the contents tend to stay in place while the bin is rolled.
Another option is a compost bin, sometimes called a ‘compost digester’. Compost bins are enclosed on the sides and top, and open on the bottom so they sit directly on the ground. These are common composting units for homes in residential areas where bins tend to be smaller, yet enclosed enough to discourage pests. These bins are inexpensive, but it is difficult to turn the compost, so it can take several months to produce compost. These bins are thin-walled plastic, and may chip along the edges, especially during a freeze.
|The most efficient enclosed bin method is the compost tumbler. It’s possible to maintain relatively high temperatures in drum/tumbler systems, both because the container acts as insulation and because the turning keeps the microbes aerated and active. An interior “paddle” aids aeration and prevents clumping of the composting materials. This greatly speeds up the composting process.
An enclosed ‘tumbler’ system offer the following benefits:
To learn more, see Compost Tumblers: Comparing different compost tumbler models
For more info, or to purchase a compost tumbler, click here
|Tips for successful composting|
|~ Activate your compost.
‘Activators’ can be added to your compost to help kick-start the process and speed up composting. Common compost activator materials are: comfrey leaves, grass clippings, young weeds, well-rotted chicken manure.
~Flying insects attracted to your compost?
Small fruit flies, especially, are naturally attracted to the compost pile. They can be discouraged by simply covering any exposed fruit or vegetable matter. Keep a small pile of grass clippings next to your compost bin, and when you add new kitchen waste to the pile, cover it with one or two inches of clippings. Adding lime or calcium will also discourage flies.
~Unpleasant odors from your compost pile?
This can be a concern in urban and suburban areas with small lots and neighbors living close by. Odors can be reduced, or eliminated, by following two practices: first, remember to not put bones or meat scraps into the compost; second, cover new additions to the compost pile with dry grass clippings or similar mulch. Adding lime or calcium will also neutralize odors. If the compost smells like ammonia, add carbon-rich elements such as straw, peat moss or dried leaves.
~ Is your compost pile steaming?
~ Is your compost pile soggy?
~ Matted leaves, grass clippings clumping together?
~ Problems with raccoons?
~ A moveable feast.
~ Additive only.
~ Take advantage of autumn’s bounty.
|Composting and weed seeds|
|A liability in composting is the unexpected introduction of new weed seeds to your garden. This is caused by slow or incomplete composting which did not generate enough heat to kill any and all weed seeds. Weed seeds in compost are a nuisance because once the compost is transferred to your garden beds, the compost acts to fertilize the weeds and make them even more persistent!
With home compost bins or piles, the way to eliminate weed seeds is twofold:
1. Make sure your compost is hot enough.
If you are buying bedding for animals, mulch or carbon-rich material to bulk up your compost pile, be aware of introducing seeds to your garden, via the compost. For example, make sure to get straw, and not hay, since straw is mostly weed-free. Ask the sales staff if there have been any complaints about seeds in these products.