Compost is a very easy way to add soil fertility and grow a better garden. Learn more about how to make a compost system, when to use and little tips and tricks.
Composting is actually a pretty simple activity that just requires time, water, air and heat to turn kitchen scraps and leaves into a healthy soil amendment. Its a passive activity that you can use to build up your soil. Your formula should be 3 “browns” to 1 “green” in order to not have your compost rot, become slimy and take much longer to degrade.
Basically any kitchen scraps and garden waste that is heavy in nitrogen. This includes lawn trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps, manure from herbivores such as horse, rabbits, goats, etc., coffee grounds, weeds, sod, urine, wine, hair, leather, and most any live green plant materials.
The “brown” material is anything high in carbon. This includes fallen leaves, bark, sawdust, paper, cardboard, newspaper, tea bags, straw, hay, corn husks, wood ashes, and many more! If you have any deciduous trees, then fall is your time to load up on brown and over the next few months add greens. Having more browns than greens is better than the opposite which can attract pests, mold, and smell.
Turning and rotation
One of the key element to decomposition is allowing air into the mix. In order to do this many people turn their compost pile. A popular option is to have a three bin system. A pretty simple concept, one bin is for adding browns and greens, one is an “in process” pile that you have turned and watered (if needed) and the final one is finished compost that you can start using on your garden.
If you have a compost tumbler, you will need to turn more frequently, about once every 3 to 4 days. This is important because in general compost tumblers are smaller than a pile and need a little more help. You will also need to keep an eye on the moisture as many are covered, they may need water added.
All compost piles should be moist but not soggy for best results. If you are like me and have a huge pile, it is impractical to be too picky about the water as it is open and subject to rainfall (making it soggy). You can cover it with a tarp which will trap the heat inside and protect it from leaching too much from rain.
Finished compost should be dark, indistinguishable and smell earthy. You my have a few twigs, orange peels, etc. that haven’t completely decomposed, just throw those back in the “input” pile or bin. It should not have a smell or feel slimy.
Finished compost can last for sometime and will be ready to use in and around your garden and lawn. If you can, sift your compost, into the fine soil-like consistency you get from commercial bags at the local hardware store. To do this you just need a little chicken wire and a wood frame.
How to use compost
The main use I have for compost is to help bring in good microbes and worms to my hard packed clay soil. I often use the sheet mulching method, which requires a layer of a finished compost, to help build soil health.
I also use finished compost as side dressing and weed suppression. In the early spring, I put a good 1-2 inch layer of finished compost around (but not up against) fruit trees and bushes. I also put finished compost around newly planted garden beds, especially for landscaping, and then cover that with a layer of pine straw or dry leaves to suppress leaves and give the seedlings a chance to thrive.
You can also spread a thin layer on any lawn areas to help out your existing grass. Our lawn area is mainly for playing and for chickens. In our case, we spread compost on the ground after the chicken tractor has passed by to cover up the chicken waste and then also ahead of the chicken tractor so that they can turn it for me!
One of the best ways to use compost is through making compost tea. The beauty of this method is you can immediately spray it on the leaves of your plants and give them a little boost when they are experiencing some kind of stress.
Compost tea just involves using unfinished compost, comfrey leaves or general greens with water over a long period of time (about a month) to break down. It will not smell good but your plants will love it. I suggest getting a sprayer to help use it easily.
One of the best ways to compost in an urban setting or if you have absolutely no yard or land, such as an apartment or a condo, then vermicomposting might be for you. Vermicomposting is simply using worms (red wigglers) to process small amounts of kitchen scraps and newspaper into worm casings.
Worm casings are a little bit different from regular compost but they are just as beneficial to your garden and can be turned into tea for spraying on leaves as well. If you are limited on space or have strict HOA rules, this option might be for you. Just be careful as they are a little sensitive to their environment.
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