Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Compost

We are talking composting today.  Composting is a great way to organically replenish nutrients and add create that beautiful dark brown soil everyone is looking for in their garden.  There are a number of different composting methods but we are going to talk about a compost pile.   
The first thing you need to do is choose the location. You should choose a location that is mostly shady. The compost heats up as it breaks down, and if it is in full sun, it will heat up too much and kill some of the essential bacteria used for breaking down the organic matter.
Next is to build or set up what you will be using to hold your compost. Just remember that it needs oxygen to break down, so don't build it air tight. Even using chicken wire can be a great way to contain the pile.
Now add the organic matter. Leaves, untreated grass clippings, chopped up wood, chopped up garden matter, even weeds without seeds can all be added to the pile. If you choose to add kitchen scraps, be aware that you might be attracting visitors to your yard. Be sure to avoid smelly things like meat, fish, bones, and dairy products. You also do not want to add plants from your garden that were diseased- as this might perpetuate the problem.
Try to get a 25 to 1 ratio of carbon based matter to 1 part nitrogen. The nitrogen helps to break the organic matter down, but stay as close to that ratio as possible to get the best results. Table scraps, untreated grass clippings, manure (not dog, cat or pig), and fruit waste are some good high nitrogen sources.  Old leaves, wood chips, paper, straw, corn stalks are all examples of high carbon based- low nitrogen based matter.
You should add all your organic matter at once, layering it a few inches at a time switching between your carbon matter, and nitrogen matter.  It needs to be moist so make sure to spray it down as you layer it but not too wet, as it needs the oxygen to aid in the process.
Turn the pile roughly once every week or two when the pile starts to cool off. You want to get the outside edges into the middle so that it all has a good chance to heat up and break down. This is a great time to make sure it is moist, so add water as needed.  A larger pile will get hotter than a smaller pile, but a big pile might be harder to handle.
Traditionally people think composting is difficult and time consuming.  Something only expert gardeners do but this couldn't be further from the truth. If you finely chop your materials, keep it properly turned and moist, and add the correct ratio of material all at once (as opposed to a little at a time) it should only take 1 to 2 months to get garden ready compost.
Many gardeners like to have a few piles going at the same time so they can have a place to add new organic matter, and have a continuous supply of compost.


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