With composting, it is understood that everything that comes from the earth should be returned to the earth. Composting is a gradual complex process, using both chemical and biological processes to break down organic matter naturally to change into compost. Oxygen, moisture, particle size, and temperature are the only elements needed to create composted material.
There are many benefits to using compost as a soil conditioner. The end result of composting is a nutrient rich soil that will hold water, allows for air flow, controls erosion, and creates a home for the bacteria that protects plants against disease, captures airborne nitrogen, lures soil-enriching earthworms. In addition to the benefits to the soil, composting cuts down on greenhouse gases as well as naturally discards certain organic materials that would otherwise be thrown into a trash can.
Generally speaking the decomposition process involves both:
- Aerobic – oxygen decomposes and stabilizes the composting materials.
- Anaerobic – lack of oxygen – composition breaks down by the actions of living organisms.
“In both of these processes, bacteria, fungi, molds, protozoa, actinomycetes, and other saprophytic organisms feed upon decaying organic materials initially, while in the later stages of decomposition mites, millipedes, centipedes, spring tails, beetles and earthworms further breakdown and enrich the composting materials. The organisms will vary in the pile due to temperature conditions, but the goal in composting is to create the most favorable environment possible for the desired organisms.” (Source – Aggie Horticulture Department)
Brown – Carbon Rich Materials
- Livestock manure (horse, cow, sheep, chicken)
- Lawn clippings and dried leaves, pine needles
- Shredded newspaper
- Wood chips and small twigs
Green – Nitrogen Rich Material
- Crop residue
- Culled vegetables
- Used kitchen scraps – peels, cores, leftover cooked vegetables (as long as there is no salt or butter on them), produce past it’s prime.
- Grass clippings (free of pesticide)
- Cuttings from plants, dead headed flowers, pulled weeds
- Coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves, tea bags
The best compost combines 2 to 3 parts “brown,” or carbon-rich materials, with 1 part “green,” or nitrogen-rich materials. Although this varies with the desired compost that is wanted. Cover the first layer with 6 inches of “brown” material and then 3 inches of “green” material. Alternate between the “brown” and “green” layers. Aerate the compost pile every week or two by using a pitchfork to turn it, or by shaking the compost bin. If all goes well, the compost should be finished in one to four months. Experts have said to let the compost pile sit for two weeks before using. Most gardeners keep two piles, one started about 4-6 months after the first. This way, they can use the compost from the first pile as the other is decomposing.
Things To Keep In Mind
- Make sure that the composter is positioned in a partially shaded area and next to a water source.
- It is a good idea to shred any materials used to speed up the compostion cycle.
- Never add materials treated with poisons or pesticides that will contaminate the compost.
- A good indicator that the compost is working is if it is hot in the middle.
- Remember that moisture is the key to composting success. If contents are too dry, add some water and some moisture rich “green materials” to add more moisture.
- If an unpleasant odor is coming from the bin, place a layer of “brown” carbon materials on top.
- If possible, toss a few handfuls of leaves or shredded newspaper into the bin whenever you add very wet items to maintain the correct moisture levels.
- The compost should be moist, but not wet. It should feel like a moist sponge. If the materials are saturated by water, then oxygen cannot do it’s work. The end result is a dark, rich, nutrient enriched soil.
Composting is not a hard science to understand. What a wonderful gift to give back to nature. It is amazing that using old kitchen scraps and natural organic materials such as newspapers and sawdust can be returned to earth to create a nutrient rich soil conditioner to give plants what they need to to grow more bountiful fruits and vegetables.