Compost, made from decomposed grass clippings, leaves, twigs, and branches, becomes a dark, crumbly mixture of organic matter.
Learn how composting works. Even a newbie to composting can make good quality compost. It can be compared to cooking as art or part science. The following 7 factors will help you master the art of composting.
Components of a Compost Pile
After a time anything that was once alive will naturally decompose. But, not all organic items should be composted for the garden. To prepare compost, organic material, microorganisms, air, water, and a small amount of nitrogen are needed.
These items are safe to compost at home:
* grass clippings
* trimmings from hedges
* vegetable scraps
* potting soil that has grown old
* coffee filters with coffee grounds
* tea bags
* weeds that have not went to seed
* plant stalks
These items are Not safe to compost at home:
* weeds that have went to seed
* dead animals
* pet feces
* bread and grains
* cooking oil
* oily foods
* diseased plants (important!)
What To Do To Make It Work
There are small forms of plant and animal life which break down the organic material. This life form is called a microorganism. From a minute amount of garden soil or manure comes plenty of microorganisms.
Nitrogen, air, and water will provide a favorable environment for the microorganisms to make the compost. Air circulation and water will keep the microorganisms healthy and working. The nitrogen feeds these tiny organisms. You may have to add a small amount of nitrogen to the pile.
Putting on too much nitrogen can kill microbes and too much water causes insufficient air in the pile. You just cannot add too much air.
Bacteria are the most effective compost makers in your compost pile. They are the first to break down plant tissue. Then comes the fungi and protozoans to help with the process. The arthropods, like centipedes, beetles, millipedes and worms, bring in the finishing touches to complete the composting process.
Smaller is Better
The materials will break down faster if the microorganisms have more surface area to eat. Chopping your garden materials with a chipper, shredder, or lawnmower will help them decompose faster.
Size of The Compost Pile
The activity of millions of microorganisms generates heat in the compost pile but a minimum size 3-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot is needed for a hot, fast composting pile. Piles that are any larger may hamper the air supply needed in the pile for the microorganisms.
Moisture and Aeration
If you can imagine a wet squeezed out sponge with its many air pockets, then this would be the ideal environment for the microorganisms in the pile to function at their best. Pay attention while your pile is composting, to the amount of rain or a drought you may have. Water in a drought and maybe turn the pile in a lot of rainy days. The extremes of these two may upset the balance of the pile. The use of a pitchfork would come in handy at this time.
Temperature and Time
Keep your pile between 110°F and 160°F and the beneficial bacteria will love it. Not too cool nor too hot. The temperature will rise over several days if you keep a good ratio of carbon and nitrogen, maintain lots of surface area within a large volume of material, and maintain adequate moisture and aeration.
Importance of Compost
+ Compost has nutrients, but it is not a complete fertilizer.
+ Compost provides nutrients in the soil until plants need to use them.
+ It loosens and aerates clay soils
+ Retains water in sandy soils.
Using the Compost
+ A soil amendment, mix 2 to 5 inches of compost into gardens each year before planting.
+ A potting mixture, add one part compost to two parts potting soil.
+ Make your own potting mixture by using equal parts of compost and sand or perlite.
+ A mulch, broadcast 2 to 4 inches of compost around annual flowers and vegetables, and up to 5 inches around your trees and shrubs.
+ A top dressing, mix finely sifted compost with sand and sprinkle evenly over lawns.
The final thing I would suggest once you have mastered the art of composting is to look very seriously at making your very own aerated compost tea. This elixir will give you results that are hard to believe.