The Earth: Composting

When planning your garden, have you considered what type of fertilizers you will use? Why not consider making compost for your garden?

Compost is decaying organic matter that has reached a stage in its disintegration at which it is an ideal food for plants. It is the mixing of organic matter that is high in carbon, such as dried leaves, with material that is high in nitrogen, such as fresh grass clippings. This combination leads to a population explosion of microorganisms and promotes rapid decomposition. The end result is high-quality humus, the most beneficial part of the soil.

Nutrition for your body, provided by your vegetable garden, is directly related to the nutrients in the soil that are available to the plants. Compost is the best fertilizer you can have for providing nutrients for your plant life. It creates a rich healthy soil in which plants can thrive and microbial life can multiply rapidly.

Compost is important because:

  • Waste materials are disposed in an efficient and sanitary manner.
  • These materials produce humus, the best fertilizer and soil additive.
  • Heat produced by the fermentation process composting, eliminates odors, weed seeds and diseases.

Successful compost depends on a mixture of materials containing both carbon and nitrogen. The following are examples of some of these materials:

  • Carbon: dried leaves and weeds, sawdust, straw, dried garden waste;
  • Nitrogen: greed weeds, grass clippings, garbage, fresh garden wastes, poultry or animal manures (don’t use dog or cat droppings).

If not enough nitrogen is present, the critical temperature will not be attained. The pile will just sit there for one or two years before breaking down.

Adequate amounts of moisture and oxygen are also necessary. A compost heap normally reaches a temperature of about 160 degrees F. The temperature remains high until decomposition is complete. Turning the pile introduces air and speeds up the decomposition process.

Two types of breakdown occur in a compost heap: aerobic and anaerobic.

  • Aerobic (oxygen is present) breakdown requires frequent turning, does not smell or breed flies, and has an abundance of activity by microorganisms. This method can take as little as two weeks, but most aerobic methods take around three months.
  • Anaerobic (oxygen isn’t present) breakdown is a slower process with no turning. It sometimes has an offensive odor and has little microorganism activity. The pile may or may not be layered, and is left for six months to two years with not further attention. To help keep the odor down peat moss can be used between layers or the pile can be sealed by covering it with black plastic.

There are many “schools” of compost-making each zealously advocating its ideal method and “recipe”. They all boil down to three different types: Sheet-composting, Trench-composting and Composting in bins or piles.

  • Sheet-composting – two or three inches of materials (manure, leaves, rotted sawdust, weeds, kitchen wastes) placed on top of the soil, then mixed with the soil and left to decompose.
  • Trench composting – materials are buried in a trench 15 inches deep and 9 to 18 inches wide. Leaves and kitchen scraps are layered with 2 inches of manure on top, if available then covered with soil and left to decompose for one season.
  • Composting in bins or piles – a well formed pile is constructed by alternating layers of materials high in carbon and nitrogen, plus a thin layer of soil, creating a 5 feet wide and 5 feet high pile. The bin or pile can be a long as desired. An easy way for me to remember the layering of the different materials is to think of it as a “garden lasagna”.

Wet – kitchen scraps (l – 6 inches)

Dry – straw, dried bean/pea vines, stalks, leaves (3 – 6 inches)

Green – grass, weeds, finished crops from the garden ( l – 6 inches)

Brown – manure, compost, soil (l – 2 inches)

A simplified version of composting for the city dweller or for use during the cold winter months, is to use a perforated 20 gallon trash can. A layer of leaves is placed on the bottom with alternating layers until the can is filled. Peat moss can be used between layers if there is an odor. By spring, the material will be semi-composted and can be incorporated into the soil.

What you have in your mind?