How to Compost
For a well maintained compost, the following are good things to keep in mind:
Your Compost Needs Air:
Composting microbes are aerobic so they can't do their work well unless they are provided with fresh air. Without air you will have anaerobic microbes take over your compost which will slow decomposition and also cause a bad odor. So it is very important to make sure that there are plenty of air passageways into your compost pile. Compost ingredients like green grass clippings or wet leaves tend to mat down very easily into slimy layers that do not allow air to get through your compost. Ingredients such as straw which do not mat easily are very helpful in allowing air to circulate into the center of your compost. The best way to make sure that you have adequate aeration for your compost and its microbes is to thoroughly break up or mix in any ingredients that might mat down and exclude air. Turning the pile and completely breaking it apart using a spade or other garden tool is a great way to get air into your compost. An efficient alternative to the standard compost bin is the compost tumbler. The compost tumbler is built for ease-of-use, requiring nothing more than a little effort in giving the bin a few turns a day. Using a compost tumbler is the most active way to compost for those who might not have much time to dedicate to their composting activity.
Your Compost Needs Water:
To get the best results from your compost you should keep it moist to keep a healthy environment for the microbes. As long as there is enough moisture to keep a thin film of water coating every particle in the pile, it will make it easier for microbes to live and multiply throughout your compost. If your compost becomes to dry the decomposition will be slowed significantly. On the other hand you do not want to over water your compost either, if it is to wet the ingredients will be so heavy that they will tend to mat down and exclude air from the pile which again will slow the composting process. If you are using dry ingredients, such as autumn leaves or straw, you'll need to moisten them as you add them to the pile. Most kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable wastes generally will have plenty of moisture already. If you live in a dry climate, it may be necessary to water your pile occasionally to maintain proper moisture.
Your Compost Needs Food:
There are two major types of food that composting microbes need to survive and successfully compost.
Browns, which are dry and dead plant materials such as straw, dry brown weeds, autumn leaves, and wood chips and sawdust. These type of materials are mostly made of chemicals that are just long chains of sugar molecules linked together, which makes these items a good source of energy for the compost microbes. Greens are fresh plant materials such as green weeds from the garden, kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags. Greens have more nitrogen in them than browns do which is a critical element in amino acids and proteins, and can be thought of as a protein source for the billions of multiplying microbes.
A good mix of browns and greens is the best nutritional balance for the microbes. Browns tend to be bulky and promote good aeration while greens are typically high in moisture and balance out the dry nature of the browns.
Composting Composting Bins
If you live in a cold climate, your compost will go dormant in the winter if it isn't insulated enough, but will start back up again in the springtime.
To keep it from going dormant be sure to keep your compost pile in a black plastic bin and in direct sunlight or you can use hay bales to insulate the compost pile.
A common misconception about composting is that your compost pile must be hot to be successful. However this is not true, as long as you have good aeration and moisture, as well as the proper ingredient mix, your pile will decompose at temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above. However, hotter compost piles do decompose a little faster. A hotter pile means more microbes or conditions that allow the microbes to have faster metabolisms, and therefore a faster composting process.
Newspaper and plain white computer paper are great for composting, but make sure to shred it first to speed up the composting process.
Anything that was living at one time is great for compost bins. Leaves, vegetables and grass clippings are all great for composting. Compost piles can either be layered in thin layers of alternating greens and browns, or they can all be thrown in together and mixed well.
Apply finished compost to your garden about 2-4 weeks before you plant, giving the compost time to integrate and stabilize within the soil.
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When Is My Compost Finished
Finished compost is dark, rich in color and crumbles easily. You should not be able to pick out any of the original ingredients used in your compost and it should have an earthy smell. If your compost is too stringy or lumpy then you need to allow more time. It can take anywhere from three to twelve months to produce compost. Decomposition depends on a number of things including temperature, what organic matter you've used, the type of compost bin used, how fine the waste material was chopped, how often you've turned it, and more.
For many outdoor garden applications compost can be fine to use even if it still has a few recognizable bits of leaves or straw. However If you are planning to use compost in seed-starting mixes you're best off having a well-finished compost.
Compost does several things to benefit the soil that synthetic fertilizers cannot do. Compost adds organic matter, which builds good soil structure and enables soils to retain nutrients and water. In sandy soils, compost acts as a sponge to help retain water in the soil that would otherwise drain down below the reach of plant roots which protects against drought. In clay soils, compost helps to add porosity to the soil, making it drain more quickly so that it doesn't stay waterlogged or dry out into a brick like substance. Compost also inoculates the soil with vast numbers of beneficial microbes and the habitat that the microbes need to live. These microbes are able to extract nutrients from the mineral part of the soil and eventually pass the nutrients on to plants. Compost also helps maintain a neutral pH and protects plants from many diseases commonly found in the garden.
One easy way to apply compost is to mulch with it. Spread the compost in a thick layer on top of exposed soil. Worms and other creatures will help the compost meld with the soil. Mulching is not only an easy way to apply compost but also keeps down weeds and helps your soil retain moisture. You can also use compost when potting indoor plants. Use seven parts soil to three parts compost to two parts sand.
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