Wednesday, September 18, 2013

THIS is how we compost

When most of your backyard is garden, you produce a lot of plant material that could be composted, and you also NEED a lot of compost!

These two wouldn't hold all of our plant material. It broke my heart to have to purchase lawn bags and have the city haul away my plant materials, and then, to make matters even more frustrating, I had to purchase compost as I wasn't able to make enough of my own!

The solution: composter by Ron

Ron built this in just a few hours. It has two compartments. Once the compost is beginning to get quite decomposed in one side, I can put the new items for composting in the other side.  You see, if I were to continually add new materials, it would slow down the decomposition.

Perhaps you have some questions, such as: What is composting? Why should I compost? How do I begin composting? Let me try to answer these questions.

What is composting?
Simply stated, composting is the biological decomposition of organic matter. Composting occurs naturally (think floor of the woods); yet it can be accelerated and improved through some simple steps.

Why compost?
If you compost your yard waste, it is less that goes into the landfill. Definitely a good thing. Also, the addition of compost to soil improves water-holding capacity and nutrient retention. In clay soil, it improves drainage and in fact it improves structure in any soil.

How does one begin composting? First, you need some type of compost-holding unit. You could use wire fencing - that's what my mother-in-law used for many years; you can make your own with old pallets, landscape timbers, concrete block etc; you can purchase plastic holding units like the ones shown below. A compost pile needs to be large enough to hold heat: 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft.

Turning units like the barrel shown provide a relatively fast method of composting.
Some people simply make a pile on the ground, and others bury the material to be composted; still others do worm composting in the kitchen!

Once you have your composter, begin adding items like leaves, straw, vegetable/fruit peels, egg shells, coffee grounds (filters too), tea bags (remove any staples), garden wastes, grass clippings, shredded paper, wood ash and wood chips. Do not add diseased plant material, or weeds with seeds; the compost may not heat up sufficiently to kill these. My personal experience with this is that in the past I added tomato waste with seeds, and this year I had many volunteer tomato plants grow where I'd applied compost last year!

For efficient breakdown of the organic matter into humus, it's important to have the right proportions of carbon to nitrogen (C:N ratio). The ideal ratio is 25-40 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.  Just try to blend various materials to achieve the ideal range.

High Nitrogen: vegetable wastes, coffee grounds, weeds, grass clippings.  High Carbon: leaves, corn stalks, straw, bark, paper, wood chips.

You can simply throw your organic matter into the composter; in 6 months to 2 years you will have compost on the bottom of your pile. To accelerate things, cut items into small pieces, and aerate your pile by turning it regularly to loosen compaction and rotate materials within the pile. It may be helpful to add water if the pile is quite dry. Do not get it too wet though or you will slow decomposition and odors may be produced from anaerobic conditions. 

How to use compost: You may use it as mulch or top dressing; you can use it in the planting hole when putting in new plants; you can sprinkle it on your lawn after aeration; if starting a new bed, till a generous amount of compost into the soil. One caveat: unfinished compost can be phytotoxic to your plants - be sure the composting process is complete before using. Compost is finished when the pile no longer heats up and it will be dark, crumbly, and have an earthy odor.

Now, head on over to Tootsie Time for Fertilizer Friday - check out the great gardens!
Also linking with Kathy at A Delightsome Life for Home and Garden Thursday - be sure to stop and see the beautiful home and garden posts there!


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