|Those people who are not enthusiastic gardeners might moan and ask themselves, what good is compost? The answer of course, is that compost is a replication of Nature’s most abundant and beneficial fertilizer.
Any time you take a walk in the woods, you are walking on a rich layer of humus, under the dead leaves. This results from dead animals and insects, tree branches, leaves, and other natural detritus, falling to the ground, and decomposing over time, with more and more layers added each year.
Humus is what you want to reproduce while composting at home. Because in it, you’ll get the richest elements that nature has to offer as fertilizer for your vegetable and flower gardens, and even the houseplants and shrubs!
Composting is not hard, either. After your initial set-up, it’s just a matter of turning the pile periodically, keeping it moistened, and adding the organic waste from your yard and kitchen.
For the average household with a nice sized yard and a few gardens, a “bed” of 3’ x 3’ x 3’ should be adequate to start. There are many patterns for compost boxes on the Internet, or if your space is limited, you can purchase composting tanks at garden centers, that will come on frames or stands that will allow you to turn them 180 degrees at a time and mix up the contents. A basic compost bin can be made from slatted wood, in a rectangular shape, leaving spaces between the planks to allow for air circulation.
The ideal foundation for your composting project, is a good layer of humus to start things working. If you have a neighbor or relative with their own compost heap, see if you can “borrow” a wheelbarrow or two of their aged material. Then you can start adding your own stuff, including things like shredded leaves (they decompose faster then whole ones), weeds from the garden and grass clippings. One rule of thumb, is 20 parts brown material for every part of green. This is because “green” tends to be wetter material, which adds more moisture and heat. Brown material like leaves bring carbon, and need that wetness to prevent its density from smothering the action in the bin.
That action is a marvelous combination of bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects, all breaking down the material you’ve added, and introducing oxygen as they move through the decomposing matter.
Composting is an art in itself, and may take you a while to master. Every item you introduce has its own beneficial properties, but many of them must be balanced out by other materials. As mentioned, the carbon in leaves can smother a pile. The acid in too many pine needles is excellent if you have alkaline soil, but not so good for use on plants that do not like acid. Ashes from a wood-burning stove are another source of carbon, but never use ashes from a coal stove, as they may contain iron or other harmful content. Manure of course is one of the favorite additives to a compost heap, but it’s rich in nitrogen which it if too slow to break down, can cause odor. Another feature of manure, is that fresh stuff is considered a “hot” material that can actual burn the tender roots of plants, because it is so rich in nutrients from the vegetable matter consumed by the animal who made it. It’s best to create another small bin where you can store fresh manure until it has aged for a while, before adding it to your compost heap.
In a time when our landfills are bulging at the seams, composting household and kitchen wastes makes sense. If you live in a municipality where separating “wet” and “dry” refuse is mandatory, you have seen the green bags that go out of your own home, and those of your neighbors.
Why not put most of that back into the ground, by composting it and using it as a fertilizer to grow your own vegetables and flowers. You can shred newspapers and paper towels, or toss in the kitchen leftovers like eggshells, limp celery, orange peels and more. It’s a good idea though, to chop even old celery, because the smaller the pieces, the faster it composts. Crushing eggshells is also wise, because they take longer to decompose as well. The things you should not put in your compost bin are those food leftovers that contain animal fats, meat and dairy products, as the bacteria they attract, can cause odor. Also do not use animal refuse from non-vegetarian diet animals, as they can carry harmful pathogens.
Composting is a terrific way to make your own fertilizer without having to buy it. And it’s recycling at its best!