or: "Compost Happens"
Composting of yard waste is a good way to turn waste into a resource.
Savings are to landfills, the environment and the pocketbook.
What is compost?
Life, growth, death and decay are part of the natural biological cycle.
Living plants convert carbon dioxide, minerals in the soil, sunlight and water into energy for growing.
When those plants die, they become raw materials for microbes, insects, worms and fungi to consume.
We call this stage of the cycle “decay” and the end product is soil organic matter.
If the ratio of nitrogen and carbon are favorable, as well as moisture content, air, temperature and other factors, a rich organic end product will result.
What can I compost?
Anything that was once alive can be composted. At our compost pile, we limit the ingredients to leaves, grass, processed wood chips, garden clippings, mushrooms, and small woody stems. Materials such as coffee grounds, food waste and even eggshells will compost, but from a practical standpoint, these can attract undesirable pests and create unwanted odors. Plants that have gone to seed, weeds that spread by runners, pet feces, should be avoided too.
Large pieces of wood can be composted but it takes a long time. It is best to store those pieces separately and let them decay to the point where they can be crumbled by hand. I have successfully composted the largest tree stumps using this method. This takes years. A better method is to burn the wood and save the ashes for later use as an amendment to the finished compost (potash- a source of potassium, a macro nutrient). NEVER recycle pressure treated wood- it contains arsenic!
How do I compost?
The easiest method is to bag up your grass clippings and leaves, bring them here and let me do it. The larger the compost pile, the better it works. Free compost from the finished pile anytime.
There are two methods generally used to compost, one is called the cold method, the other one is called the hot or fast method.. I use the hot method.
We’ll review the slow composting method first since this is very simple how most small mulch piles will be configured. This type compost pile requires virtually no tending.
They will still work just fine but will be much slower, cooler and less effective for killing off the weed seeds and pathogens.
Simply mix non-woody yard waste into a pile on the ground and let it sit for a year or more. The natural process will slowly convert the pile into usable compost. When adding fresh yard waste, bury it in the center of the pile. The only attention is to water it occasionally in dry seasons.
Fast or Hot composting.
One product of microbial
metabolism (decay) is heat. By balancing the conditions to favor thermophyllic
(high temperature) microorganisms, the compost pile’s internal heat quickly
rises to 130 to 150 degrees F. At this temperature, most of the weed seeds and
pathogens are killed, but the beneficial mycorrhizae fungi and themophyllic
bacteria survive. It is best to recycle old potting soil mixes at the early
stages so that they too can be heated and sterilized.
After the hot phase is complete and the pile cools down, the worms, insects and other organisms complete the decay process.
This style of compost pile
requires tending, specifically turning over to allow air in.
You do NOT need a fancy bin or container to create a pile. Containers look nice, and some have a mechanism to make turning easier. Simple piles work fine and the bigger they are, the better they work.
GREENS- We need NITROGEN
containing materials (grass clipping)= protein building blocks
BROWNS- We need CARBON
containing material (dry leaves)= food
Bulking Agents- Allows
air into the pile. I use wood chips. Also Sawdust, straw, corn stalks.
Too much greens will cause a bad smell.
Too much browns and the pile will not heat up enough.
Just like cooking, a good recipe will enhance the final product of composting.
My favorite recipe is half greens and half browns. If the grass clippings are still green, count them as greens,
If they have dried out, count them as browns. At first I layer them until the pile heats up, then at the first turning, I spread them out on the ground and thoroughly mix them up, adding manure+bedding.
To this I add Bulking Agents- materials that allow air into the pile. I use processed wood chips. These are composted in a separate pile until they are partially decomposed but still retain their size and shape. Also sawdust, straw, corn stalks, any bulky organic material can be used.
New waste gets added to the top of the pile and mixed in at the next turning.
As long as the temperature of the center of the pile is above 120 degrees, it is working, and should be left alone. When the temperature drops, it needs to be turned. If after turning, the pile has cooled down, it is cured.
In properly cured compost, all
of the ingredients are indistinguishable, that is looking at them can no longer
individually identify them.
Good soil, HUMUS, is a mixture of:
Minerals (45%)- small aggregates (clay), medium aggregates (silt) large aggregates (sand)
Organic mater (5%)
The Ph needs to be balanced to the intended use, as does the sand content and organic content.
For general-purpose soil enrichment, one could use the product of the compost pile directly.
We generally mix the raw compost with sand and hardwood ashes to create a base for amendments. These amendments can be peat moss, lime or manure depending on the usage.
A really good general purpose potting mixture is the prepared compost base mix and peat moss, 50-50.
Where we live, a hole dug in the ground for a plant is considered exactly the same as a clay pot. It has no nutritive value; therefore holes are dug oversized and filled with the home made potting mixture.
DO NOT use home made compost products inside your home. Only use sterilized commercial products for indoor plants.