Composting Offers Low-Cost Way To Fertilize

Composting turns yard debris, garden waste and kitchen scraps into a valuable soil conditioner. When added to the garden compost will improve the quality and yields of the foods and flowers we grow. Compost also saves dollars in valuable space at the landfill. It is the natural occurrence of falling vegetation, decaying and putting minerals and nutrients back into the soil.

Depending upon the time given, compost can be processed in as little as a month or as long as a year. Rapid decomposition needs all of these elements: air, moisture, heat, raw organic matter and organisms present in the soil. Bacteria attacks plants and other material in the compost pile, breaking it down into dark brown humus.  Added to the garden, humus helps to break up heavy soils and improve fertility. It is full of nutrients and minerals all usable to the garden plants. The key to accelerating composting is to provide the best environment for the bacteria and organisms. They need nitrogen (found in fresh green leaves and grass clippings) and carbohydrates (straw, leaves, stems, kitchen scraps) along with air, heat and moisture.

Only vegetable type kitchen scrap should be used because meat and bones attract flies and decompose slowly. Earthworms can also help with the break-down of the compost. Worms tunnel and eat their way through the pile and provide ventilation.  Worms can be added after the pile starts to cool, which is later in the process.

The compost pile can reach temperatures of 160° at the center. To maintain these temperatures the pile needs to be turned frequently and proper moisture levels need to be maintained. The simplest compost system is to just start dumping the waste in a pile. Build the pile in layers. First lay down something absorbent like leaves or sawdust. This will help to prevent nutrients from leaching into the soil. Add three different layers of material. Include one layer of manure or garden loam. Continue to build the compost alternating between nitrogen rich grass clippings and carbon rich vegetable waste and small twigs and leaves. Make the pile at least 3 ft.³ in size to guarantee enough heat exchange. Turn the pile periodically to stir the mixture, and circulate air and moisture. During the rainy season cover the pile with the tarp to keep the excessive moisture from leaching all the nutrients and turning the pile cold. By supplying optimum conditions entering the pile every three days, it is possible to have usable compost in 10 to 20 days.

Once decomposed, the material called humus, may be used as a mulch around shrubs in the landscape or in the garden. Remember the smaller the pieces the faster the compost will deteriorate. Keep the pile moist, turn it often, and supply all the elements needed to keep the bacteria and organisms active and you’ll have some gardener’s gold to add to your garden.