Saturday, March 26, 2011

More About Compost

Compost is very simple to make.  As I mentioned before, you need "green" (nitrogen) and "brown" (carbon) in a 1:3 ratio, some water and at least an amount that equals 3 square feet in volume.  If there is too much brown, the compost won't heat up and composting will not happen.  If there is too much green it will start to turn sour, or  if too wet it will smell like rotten eggs.  So too much brown add green, too much green add brown.  Make sure it drains well so it will not be too wet, which can lead to the above rotten egg smell.  An easy way to make sure drainage is good is to put sticks and branches in the bottom or make sure the composter has good drainage and is elevated slightly on bricks.  If you have a pile of almost completed compost cover it if there is heavy rains so the nutrients don't wash away.  If nothing is happening and you have a good mix of brown to green perhaps the volume has gone down to low.  Piles of compost are constantly shrinking due to the composting process, so material needs to be added frequently to keep it at the minimum volume. When starting a new batch of compost add a handful or two of finished compost as a starter, plus a few clumps of grass with soil on the roots will also help add soil organisms.  You can buy commercial compost starters but I think they are probably not any better than some compost and a few globs of soil.  Some people swear buy a can of beer poured on the pile (use the cheap stuff!).

Good sources for green material are:

kitchen scraps (NOT meat, bones, dairy or grease these attract RATS)*
coffee grounds and tea leaves
grass clippings
pulled up weeds (unless they have gone to seeds, then throw away in the garbage)
alfalfa meal, available at garden centers (this is good for when there are no grass clippings available)
composted manure (horse, cow, chicken)

Good Sources for Brown material:

shredded fallen leaves (shredding helps them decompose faster)
straw (not hay)
newspaper (shredded)

A word about manure (a.k.a. poop).  Only use well rotted manure (not fresh) from herbivores- cows, horses, alpacas, goats, chickens etc.  Do not use dog or cat waste because it attracts rats and needs to be composted at a very high temperature to kill diseases. (I am assuming that I don't have to tell you not to use human waste, eew)

If you follow the above rules and ratios and turn or mix the compost frequently you can have compost in a month.  A pile will take about a year or year and a half.  It is well worth the effort because compost will enrich your soil, make great potting soil and save you a ton of money.

* You can add eggshells, banana peels and citrus peels but they do take a long time to rot. Cut or shred any thing you add into smaller pieces to speed up the decomposition process. 

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