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Composting 101

Posted by Allison Pezzack on

Compost is called The Gardener’s Gold because it is an invaluable partner in keeping the soil healthy. If you are thinking of using compost that you made yourself instead of buying it from your favourite garden store, here are seven simple things to consider before you start making compost.

1 – WHAT COMPOST IS NOT Compost is a wonderful recycling facility right at your home.  Your soil will love you for it. But for all its wonderful benefits compost isn’t meant to be used as fertilizer. What compost does well though is help improve soil structure, prevent the growth of weeds and regulate moisture in soil.

2 – SMALL IS SIMPLER. Start your compost hobby with a small pile. You can use a commercial compost bin, or build one yourself out of wood. Managing a small compost pile is much easier than a great big one, and you won't realize one day that you have made way too big a compost bin when you only have a small source of organic material to build on.

3 - WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MAKING COMPOST Making compost is like fermenting beer: you need bacteria, air moisture and warmth so the magic – the breakdown of compost ingredients – can happen. Keep in mind the following when you start making your compost:

 Microbes are responsible for digesting or decomposing compost ingredients like kitchen scraps, grass clippings, twigs, and other materials that you are using.

 When the compost pile starts to heat up, that is when the microbes are hard at work, breaking down organic materials.

 The compost heap can get as hot as 76 degrees Celsius.

 When the compost pile cools down, it may mean two things: (1) composting is complete or (2) anaerobic organisms have taken over your compost pile….which means you need to mix the pile to keep oxygen circulating enough to encourage aerobic microbes to start working again.

 Compost starts heating up two days after you have started your pile.

 Turn your compost pile every 2 or 3 days to let air circulate and speed up the decomposition of organic materials. Alternatively, you can wedge a PVC or steel pipe riddled with holes in the center of the compost so air can get through the heap.

 Cover the compost heap to protect it from rain. Too much water ferments the decomposing materials, which can stink to high heavens if you are not careful.

 A smaller compost heap is easier to manage, neater and will decompose much more quickly than a larger pile. Composting materials all at one will also help speed up composting time.

4 – WHAT GOES INTO MAKING COMPOST? Anything that once lived is potential compost material. They say “potential” because there are some materials that you can’t use, for simple health and practical reasons. The best compost is a mixture of “green” and “brown” materials. “Greens” are young, sappy materials that rot quickly and are high in nitrogen, like:

 Grass clippings

 Poultry manure

 Young weeds and plants

 Fruit and vegetable scraps

 Fish meal

 Coffee grounds

 Alfalfa meal

 Tea bags and tea leaves

 Cut flowers

 Soybean meal

 Bedding from herbivorous pets “Browns” are organic materials made from tougher materials, have usually dried, and are high in carbon, like:

 Fall leaves

 Spoiled hay / old straw

 Wood chips

 Twigs

 Sawdust

 Cardboard

 Egg cartons

 Shredded newsprint and office paper

 Shredded tree bark 

Paper bags and paper towels

Experts suggest a 30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen organic materials when making compost.

5 – WHAT NOT TO COMPOST There are materials that are not suitable to make compost.

 One, because they simply do not decompose and will still be there when the rest of the composted material is ready. These materials include plastic, Styrofoam, glass or metal.

 Two, they may spread disease and harmful pathogens like dog feces, used cat litter, and disposable diapers.

 Three, because they encourage unwanted visitors like rodents to rummage in your compost because they are attracted to the compost’s nasty smell. Things like animal bones, fat, meat and fish scraps, greasy items, and other dairy products fall in this category.

6 – COMPOST IS READY WHEN… It has turned into a dark soil and you can’t recognize the original ingredients anymore. (Although sometimes, you will see the odd bark, twig or egg shell in it) If you start making compost in late spring or early summer, the heat helps quicken composting time to as little as 12 weeks. In the fall, if you are composting a large pile, your composting materials are mostly slow-rotting or you are not mixing the compost heap often, compost can take up to a year – sometimes even two years – to be ready.


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