Basics of Composting
Compost is made from organic wastes and breaks down naturally with very little assistance from those of us who create the waste. Everyone in the household should be aware of composting and understand what materials can be composted. Once the waste materials are placed in a pile they begin to break down naturally. The biological process that occurs involves common earthworms, bacteria, fungi and decomposition. Only certain materials will work in the heap (no cooked food). Anything that grows in your garden or your yard is potential food for the microbes in your compost heap. The compost heap is a real boon to the modern gardener and is of great assistance in keeping your garden looking well and being nourished at the same time.
Typical composting materials
A mix of materials works best. The ratio of carbon to nitrogen within the compost bin or compost heap ideally should be 30:1, so this involves mixing high ratio material waste with lower value waste. If you manage to get the balance right you will produce good compost for use on your vegetable patch. Food wastes, hay, grass clipping and manure are all too low based on the ratio but you can balance the heap by adding the high ratio materials which are leaves, wood, paper and sawdust. Wood and sawdust are about 10 times too high so care is needed and you should ensure that you do not add too much of these materials. Experience will tell you if your compost is too wet or too dry and you can add the new materials to redress the balance. It sounds complicated but is quite easy if you add some of everything in moderation.
Compost Bin help
The bigger the surface area the better as the waste materials will decompose more quickly. You can assist the composting process by cutting up potato, apple (veg or fruit) peelings into smaller bits as this speeds up the decomposition. I use tea bags but am always careful to tear each bag before adding the bags, thus allowing the leaf dust to break down quicker. I did not always do this but since I started I have found that the whole compost bin performs much better. Mulched or shredded grass clipping will decompose more quickly too. Never be tempted to pile lots of grass into the bin as it will just slow down the whole process and cause a sludgy mess.
Heat is important for the compost heap to work properly and I layer 2 inches of grass clipping into the bin every 8 or 9 inches of other waste. This creates a warmth layer and the worms will move up or down the heap as required. Outside the grass cutting season I use shredded newspaper for the levels. It is important not to compress the heap. It need the materials to be loose and aerated to work best. Mix the materials in the bin every couple of months.
Size of a loose compost heap
A nice big compost pile will be insulated and work away merrily by itself. The center of the pile will be much warmer than its edges. I like to keep the open heap to about 4 ft square which ensures that the inner heat remains working throughout the wintertime. If you do not have sufficient waste for such a heap size then a compost bin would suit better, especially if you are restricted for space. Larger heaps (over 4ft square) have disadvantages too, because the air cannot get to the center. They will all eventually work but if you want to get it right and optimize proceeding then the 4 ft heap works the best and will soon be ready for spreading on and nourishing the soil for your next planting of fruit or flowering trees, vegetables or other crops.
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