Because of its many benefits, compost is considered as the black gold to gardeners. Composting is a way of breaking down green and brown wastes in order to make compost, which is beneficial for keeping your soil healthy so that plants will grow from it. With compost, you are creating rich humus for your lawn and garden. This adds nutrients to your plants and helps retain soil moisture. Instead of throwing away food scraps, you can include them in an organic compost pile, so that they can still be used as natural fertilizers for the soil. Moreover, composting is generally beneficial for the environment because it keeps food wastes away from landfills where they release greenhouse gases that emit harmful radiation into the atmosphere.
High quality compost comes from a carefully tended compost pile with the right mixture of brown and green matter, water and oxygen. When all is working optimally in a pile it will reach high temperatures of 120-150°F. The high heat will kill most pathogens and weed seeds but the beneficial mycorrhiza will survive. There is a natural cooling off period and then the compost is ready and can be put to use in your garden. To make the best compost, you should create a hot compost pile in a bin or on the ground and add all the composting ingredients at once.
Things You Can Compost
To make compost at home, you have to determine the materials that can be included in your organic compost. Not all food wastes can go into the compost pile. To make good compost, you need a 50:50 mix of materials that are rich in Carbon and Nitrogen. Carbon comes from brown material such as dried leaves and straw whereas Nitrogen comes from annual weeds and grass clippings. Here are some examples of the common materials that you can use for your organic compost.
Carbon Rich Browns
- Paper towels
- Dried leaves
- Paper bags
Nitrogen Rich Greens
- Annual weeds
- Fruit and vegetable peelings
- Tea bags
- Grass clippings
On the other hand, avoid including the following since they can attract pests and can spread easily in the compost, rendering it useless. Meat, bones, fish scraps, diseased plants, pet manures and dairy products must not be added into your compost pile.
The Composting Process
Start making your compost pile in the earth itself. There’s no need to put it in some sort of container, although a compost bin by the garden can be very helpful while you are still gathering materials. Once you have all the materials you need, dig a shallow hole and set the compost pile in the earth to let worms and other beneficial microorganisms go to work on it.
If you have twigs and straw in your compost pile, you should put them in the compost pit first to make sure that they are buried a few inches deep into the earth. These twigs will help in ventilating and draining the compost pile. When adding compost materials, make sure that you do it in layers and that you alternate the dry and moist materials. The dry ones are dried leaves, sawdust, paper bags and straw. The moist materials are tea bags and food scraps. After adding the dry and moist materials in layers, you can then add the grass clippings and other plants. These ingredients emit Nitrogen into the soil, speeding up the process of decomposition in the compost pile.
Moisture and Aeration
You have to always keep the compost pile moist. This will be no problem during the rainy season since rainwater will do the job. However, during the dry season, make sure that you water your organic compost pile just like any other plant that you take care of. You can help retain moisture in the compost pit by covering it with anything such as wood, carpet scraps or plastic sheets. This can also serve as protection from too much rainwater during the wet season. Keep the compost pile moist, not soaked.
To aerate the compost pile, make sure that you turn the pile every few weeks using a shovel or pitchfork. Composting is largely aided by oxygen and turning the pile every now and then can help add oxygen to speed up the composting process. You may also choose to add new materials later on and mix them together with the rest of the pile as necessary.
The last stage of composting is called ‘curing’. This is when the pile is set aside, not added to or turned, the temperature will lower to finish the process. Compost is ready or finished when it looks feels and smells like rich, dark earth rather than rotting vegetables. In other words, it should be dark brown, crumbly and smell like earth. While the majority of organic materials should not be recognizable in finished compost, it’s okay if there are a few stubborn materials, such as corncobs or wood chips that do not decompose. These materials should not be used in the finished compost, though they should be filtered out by a process called ‘screening’.
Composting offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers when applied to lawns and garden beds. Compost is the single most important supplement you can give your garden. It’s a simple way to add nutrient rich humus to your lawn or garden that fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. It’s also free, easy to make and good for the environment. You no longer need to buy compost and you’ll be able to save money and at the same time, help the environment by making homemade organic compost.