Wednesday, March 23, 2011
What is compost? The end product should be brown with bits of visible sticks or bits of leaves, looks like soil and has a soil-like smell. Compost is a fertilizer, soil conditioner, and mulch all in one. There are several methods of composting. It could be something as simple as a pile left to rot for a couple of years, or something as complex as an electric composter in a kitchen that heats up organic material and turns it into compost in days. But the concept is the same. Organic material is added in a 3 to 1 ratio: three parts carbon (brown dried up stuff) to one part nitrogen (yes to, veggie peels, apple cores,eggshells, tea leaves, coffee grounds; no to meat, dairy, or fish). Just to confuse the issue sometimes "brown" things aren't brown, such as newspaper and "green" things aren't green such as coffee grounds. However, you will get the gist. Add water if it is dry (it should be slightly damp), or add more brown if it starts to get slimy and stinky, or make the pile bigger if it isn't heating up. The organisms in the compost will heat up the center of the pile while they do their thing, so the correct balance of brown and green, water and volume of the pile, creates the perfect atmosphere for the micro-organisms and fungi to "cook" the organic material without an offensive odor. The more often the pile is turned, the quicker the process happens. That is why you will get compost with a pile, but it will take at least a year maybe two. Last year I started with a slow pile and a "fast" composter. My fast composter worked fairly well. It was homemade out of a garbage can on wheels. I drilled several holes in the bottom and around the sides at the bottom sides, middle and top near the lid. No holes in the lid. I tried to turn it by rolling it on the ground on its side every week but that didn't work that well since the handle for pulling got in the way of rolling and the lid always fell off. I then resorted to dumping it out and then mixing it up in a tarp and dumping it back in the can. This was too difficult and time consuming for me, so I then resorted to sticking my arm down to the bottom taking out the composted stuff and mixing the rest with my hand. This sort of worked and I had some nice compost in about 3 months. I did nothing over the winter while the temperatures were too low and this spring I had a garbage can full of lovely compost and a pile of almost all composted stuff in the back corner of the yard. I treated myself to a compost tumbler (pricey) and I hope to be able to make compost in a month! Next post I will talk about how to fine tune composting and again reiterate composts great attributes.