Friday, February 26, 2010

Easy Garden Composting

If you read my recent post on The Kitchen Composter or Composting Around the House, you're may be thinking, "Okay, that's easy stuff to do, but that outdoors thing... well, that's too difficult for me." 

What if I told you it was just as easy?

Photo Credit: Joi

There are books upon books written on the subject if you're looking to brew some hummus in hurry, for a large farm, or commercially, but if you're looking to make compost on a small scale at home, it's pretty much a no fail garden project. And don't we all like a garden venture that is actually going to work! Seriously, by God's design, organic matter breaks down. It's just a matter of how long can you wait.

Mother Earth News has just published an article in their recent publication "Guide to Organic Gardening" which includes an article "Compost Made Easy". Of all the things I've read on composting, this one truly made it seem like a piece a cake (or better yet, a good mud pie!).

You can also watch Master Gardener Ed Bruske, a D.C. gardener who was a former journalist for the Washington Post on a series of on-line videos he's put together at MonkeySee. Each of the 15 videos is about 2-4 minutes long.

One last resource you may find helpful, Lars at CompostingInstructions.com has put together an entire website just devoted to making this black gold for your garden. You can find pictures and all sorts of information there.

Easy Compost Basics:

• Compost is made up of green (wet) materials and brown (dry) materials. 

• Green would be things like grass clippings, manure, and stuff from your kitchen compost.

• Brown would be dry leaves, pine needles, dead plants (not diseased), and newspaper.

• Aim for a mix of 1/3 green and 2/3 brown materials, but 1/2 and 1/2 will still compost just fine. Like making a soup, this doesn't have to be perfect to come out great.

• All organic or living things WILL break down, eventually. To accelerate the breaking down into hummus you need 1) air flow; 2) moisture with drainage; 3) optimal temperature; 4) and a balance of green and brown materials.
Photo Credit: wisemandarine
• Use a composter that allows air to move through the pile. (More on this on another post).

• If you're pile seems dry and dusty, turn and add water.

• Too wet, turn and add dry material.

• A healthy pile will feel warm to the touch, except maybe in winter. If it is too cool, add more green high-nitrogen material, such as manure, and turn.

• Place your compost pile strategically - near your garden where you'll use it; under a deciduous tree if possible (shade in summer so it doesn't over cook and sun in winter to keep it going as much as possible); and near a water faucet so you can add water when needed.

• A hot compost pile may break down quicker, but won't necessarily be richer in microbial diversity.    

• Like fine wine, a compost pile that is allowed to mature over a longer period of time will be richer in these micro-organisms. 

• Any size compost pile will work, but keeping it about 3 feet tall will allow it to start heating up and still be a size you can work with.

• Turn it when you can (although not necessary). No need to be legalistic about how often, however you may need to turn more often if it gets too wet.

• Smell your pile to determine it's health. You want it to smell earthy, but not stink. 

• If it stinks, it could be 1) too wet - add more dry material; 2) kitchen scraps too close to the top - turn and work them down below the surface; 3) no smell at all? In early fall you may find you need to add water if you have a lot of brown material which you just added.

• Some leaves tend to be "leathery" like California Oak leaves and should be run through a shredder before putting into a composter. Otherwise, it could take longer than necessary to break down.

Want to share an additional tip?


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