Once you start keeping your own garden, you come to understand why compost is called “black gold” by so many people. But what is composting anyway? In short, it means using your kitchen waste and scraps, putting them into a pile, and let them decompose into rich, nutritious soil for your garden. It’s a natural process, but you can help it along in many ways to get the absolute best results for your plants if you know what you’re doing.
When your garden is well-kept with quality compost, it will grow all that much beautiful, and if you’re cultivating your own veggies, you can be sure they’ll have higher nutrient levels all around. It’s an eco-friendly process that won’t harm your plants and will also considerably reduce your organic waste levels, plus a ton of other benefits. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s see what you need to start composting right away.
The building blocks of any successful compost pile are:
- Green and brown organic waste (AKA dry/wet matter).
- Oxygen to let your compost breathe, or thing will start to rot wrong.
- Heat to keep the microbes alive and well in their decomposition duties.
- A 1 cubic yard container or space in your backyard to accommodate your pile.
Make sure that you make a big enough pile for it to hold enough heat, but not large enough (5 cubic feet) that it won’t allow enough air to reach the microbes in the center. Once that’s settled, mix two parts brown organic waste (such as dry leaves, twigs, wood chips, etc.) with one part green waste (veggie scraps, coffee grounds or tea leaves, bones, etc,). Brown waste provides the carbon, while the green one provides nitrogen. Chop big pieces into smaller ones before mixing them in to help them break down quicker. You can layer them in, with about 4 inches per layer, and soaking with water before adding the next one.
One that’s taken care of, it’s time to go on maintenance mode. Your compost will need to be turned periodically so the microbes can get air and break down the materials evenly, so once a week you should lift and turn the mix with a garden fork or a similar tool. Once your compost pile looks and smells like rich, healthy soil, which could take anywhere from two months to a year, depending on the size, components, and how often you turn it over. Diligence pays!
How do you use compost?
Indoor plants: Put a small handful on the surface of your potted soil, and the natural decomposition process will provide the nutrients. Be sure not to use too much, as you need to let your regular soil breathe normally (and be careful not to make a mess inside with it or you’ll have to up your cleaning game).
Lawn: Make an even ⅛ to ¼ inch layer of your compost across the grass, which will help the grass absorb fertilizer more efficiently, reducing the overall use of it. Consider using a natural option made out of recycled poultry waste (usually known as DPW) for better effect.
Trees and shrubbery: Half-composted green waste can be applied to the plantings to provide better nutrition. For better results, use wood chips, grass clippings, and leaves, especially if they’re already shredded or chipped up.
Flowerbeds and vegetable patches: Mix a half-an-inch layer of compost with the top six inches of soil in your flower bed or vegetable patch. Always make sure that your soil isn’t too wet, as that can cause something of an “adobe effect” and prevent it from breathing when you mix in your compost.
How to deal with the most frequent compost issues?
Foul smelling compost: Sometimes, a compost pile will emit a strong, unpleasant smell like rotting food. This is usually caused by a lack of oxygen reaching all the way through the pile and every component, which can be easily solved by turning it over more often and thoroughly. Another probable cause is overloading the pile with food waste, which in turn makes the contents become too wet. You can solve this by not adding any more food waste until the microbes have finished their job breaking down the food while turning it over constantly to give them lots of air.
Compost is not changing/breaking down: This can be the result of your compost pile drying out faster than you’re adding water to it. To avoid that, add more green waste and water to the mix, then turn. On the other hand, if your compost is too slimy, add more brown waste and cut back on watering until the pile normalizes.
Worms are leaving the compost pile: If these little decomposition aides are leaving the pile onto the sides of the lid or bedding, it can be a sign that your pile is either too dry or too acidic. If the moisture levels seem fine, then tackle the acidity by adding a little garden lime and cutting down on an acidic component such as citrus peels.