Composting your Garden Waste!
Turn garden waste into compost, a rich, free food for your plants
Compost (käm pOst) n. a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning soil.
The Basics of Compost
Composting has been going on since the beginning of time. Each year, Mother Nature produces foliage in the spring. In the autumn months, when the leaves fall from the trees, and annual plants die back, they begin the process of composting. In a year, or maybe two, this decayed plant matter becomes the food for a new plant or tree. This is composting in it's most basic form....
Today, with asphalt and steel rapidly covering the earth's surface, this cycle has been permanently altered. As a gardener, you have a duty to help to protect and maintain the remaining soil which we all use to produce our food, and grow the flowers which add beauty to our lives. This is recycling in it's most basic form......
Anyone can compost and just about anything that once lived is suitable for compost.
A compost pile doesn't have to be anything fancy. You don't need a special bin or container. Organic material will eventually break down into humus, no matter how or where it is stored. However, some sort of barrel, box or bin will keep your backyard compost pile tidier, keep the neighbors happier, and discourage rodents, flies, and other animal pests.
Compost Bins and Containers
There are dozens of composters available for the home gardener today. These work well, but are designed more for an apartment dweller, or a homeowner who only has a limited amount of gardening space. As the size of the garden increases, so should the size of your compost facility. For a medium to large garden area, you can construct a permanent compost bin fairly easily, and rather cheaply if you have even basic woodworking skills. If you have an out of the way corner in your yard, you really only need to create a compost 'heap', and have enough space adjacent to it to allow you to periodically turn your pile.
Plant material can be turned into compost in as little as two weeks, or it can take as much as a year. The speed at which the decomposition occurs depends on the size of the material you are composting, and the effort which you want to put out.
Although stems and branches will eventually decompose, you wouldn't want them added to your compost pile because they will still be stems and branches long after your leaves and grass clippings have returned to earth. Smaller is better, with the optimum being material which has been chopped or shredded into small pieces. The process is speeded up even further by keeping the pile moist and turning it regularly to expose all of the material to the air.
The natural process of composting is carried out by the thousands of micro-organisms which live naturally in soil. These organisms, like all living things, need food, air and water. They feed on the organic waste materials, converting it into compost. This process generates sufficient heat to keep the organisms going as well as killing off most harmful bacteria and weed seeds.
As the organic matter is consumed, the available oxygen diminishes, and the temperature in the middle of the pile will begin to drop, slowing the process to a stop.
Turning or stirring the pile frequently puts more oxygen into the pile and the heat will build again, speeding the process along. Your compost pile should be kept constantly moist, but never soggy.
Assembling Your Compost Pile
You can make your own rich dark humus with nothing more than fallen leaves, grass clippings, and the plant prunings and parts that you would have to deal with one way or another, anyway.
- Ideally, your compost facility should be set in full sun, directly on the soil, but any place will do.
- Build your compost pile lasagna style...
- Begin your pile with a base of three to four inches of straw or twiggy material on the bottom for good air circulation.
- Add alternating three to four inch layers of wet green material and dry brown material
- The green matter should consist of a mix of grass clippings and garden waste.
- The brown matter should consist of a mix of dry leaves, straw, or shredded newspaper (no colored ink or glossy paper though).
- Uncooked fruit and vegetables may be added to the green layers, but should be covered with a layer of soil before the next brown layer, to prevent odors and flies.
- Mix everything up well, from top to bottom every two weeks with a pitch fork.
- Don't let your compost pile dry out. Keep it watered and wet
- DO NOT COMPOST meat, fish, bones, dairy products, fats or oils, pet waste, diseased plant materials, hardy weeds, or grass clippings which have been treated with herbicides or 'weed and feed' type products.
The resulting product of your composting endeavor is crumbly, dark, soil-like humus which makes an incredibly rich, organic fertilizer and plant food for your garden. You also get the added benefit of keeping a lot of unnecessary stuff from being dumped into our landfills. Besides, you are doing something to help our earth.............