Composting is a great way to recycle. For one thing, organic material is reused, therefore, it’s really a practical, environment-friendly process.
There are various benefits to be gotten from using a pile of decomposed organic matter. Gardens and lawns are beautified. Plants are made healthy. Vegetables are made to grow more abundantly.
Composting decreases trash by using them for a better purpose.
The Importance of Composting
How exactly does compost help?
- Compost promotes soil microbes for plant growth. It energizes the soil food web that is composed of microscopic bacteria, fungi, and life forms such as earthworms and crickets. These, especially fungi that work with plant roots, enable plants to feed independently.
- Compost enables plants (vegetables) to avoid common diseases, making them grow healthier.
- Compost improves plants’ flavors and nutritional values, benefitting people as a result.
- Compost helps in the moisture retention of soil that is what plants need.
Suffice it to say that any garden would greatly benefit through composting practices.
Compost: Hot or Cold?
One must decide between doing cold composting or hard composting.
Cold (Regular) Composting only mainly requires collecting organic materials in a pile, enclosure or bin and leaving it alone. It does take months to a year or so to decompose. The materials can be moved and mixed up to allow oxygen and speed up the process, but it will still take many months.
Hot Composting is for the more serious gardener. It is a quick way to do as it only takes days to take effect. But it does need more time to prepare.
It requires four ingredients: nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. They feed on microorganisms, speeding decay. In hot composting, green and brown materials are mixed together with soil, sprinkled with some water, and turned over every four to five days. It’s rather a little more tedious work than when doing cold composting.
Not to forget to mention, though, there is what is called Worm Composting or Vermicompost. Redworms (or Red Wigglers) are fed food scraps. They then release nitrogen-rich castings for growing plants. The worms can be bought online or from a garden supplier.
Hot Composting Steps
Assuming that one is a really serious gardener, below are the steps in How to Make a Hot-Compost Heap. What a gardener needs to do:
- For a solid base, layer the bottom with a few inches deep of lightweight brown material (dry leaves or other dry yard debris).
- Mix up shredded (wet) green and (dry) brown items. The green ones are high in nitrogen; the brown ones are high in carbon. Build alternately. Adjust portions so that compost is not too wet or too dry. Green to brown ratio should be between 1:3 to half and half. Avoid compacting large quantities of green materials to avoid an anaerobic reaction that could kill microbes.
- Add in a shovelful of soil or of an already-made compost. That will help introduce the correct bacteria. Mix well again.
- Sprinkle with enough water until consistency is like a damp sponge. Too much will waterlog and drown helpful microorganisms.
- The compost pile must now be around one cubic meter in size. Maintain the size of the desired result.
- Keep rodents, etc. away. Cover the bin with a lid or a layer of yard debris.
- Monitor and record daily temperature for a month. Use compost thermometer. From one to five days, the temperature should be only between 49 and 77 degrees Celsius (120 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit). It should cool down to below 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) after (between four and seven days).
- Reintroduce oxygen (and heat) by turning over the organic matter with a garden fork. Stir it up to bring the pile’s exterior material into the interior. This prevents materials from becoming matted down and developing an odor.
- Do the turning-over every four to five days, when the temperature drops below 43 degrees Celsius. Add only a liberal amount of water. By the 14th day, the compost will not be recognizable anymore.
- After a month, it will be dark and crumbly. The temperature will decrease below 29 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Leave the compost for a few weeks then use it. Add about four to six inches of it to flower beds and into your pots. This should be before every planting season.
Hot composting requires more effort and takes much longer to prepare, but the whole process takes effect much faster. Do remember that the compost pile must not be too close to the home so that visiting rodents won’t transfer to the home. Find a shaded area or even one under the sun (but that will require more water). It’s better to keep it a few feet away from plants. There should be enough space to turn the compost.
Some Tips to Consider
Keep a container in the kitchen for collecting composting materials.
- cooked/uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps (they break down quickly and do not attract rodents and insects)
- coffee grounds
- eggshells (add calcium to the compost)
- grass/plant clippings
- dry leaves, wood and bark chips (all finely chopped)
- shredded newspaper
- sawdust from untreated wood
- chicken, turkey, cow or horse manure
- some paper towels and paper bags
- some cotton clothing (torn up)
- some hair
Don’t add onion and garlic — they are said to repel earthworms.
Avoid these as they make compost smell bad and attract animals and pests:
- anything containing meat, oil, fat, or grease
- animal bones including fish bones
- diseased plant materials
- sawdust or chips from pressure-treated wood
- Pet (dog, cat) and human feces (except for manure from herbivores)
- weeds that go to seed
- dairy products
- containers marketed as “compostable”
*Avoid them for health and hygiene reasons and their inability to break down.
Doing it Right
Those are all a gardener needs to do to create the best compost for his/her garden. It takes a little bit of time, but a committed gardener won’t mind. Just remember, if doing it was too complicated and if it smells bad and looks messy, that means the preparation process wasn’t done right. If one’s compost doesn’t seem right, then it probably isn’t.
So the best thing to do, like in other things, is to do it properly. Make it a labor of love and reap the well-deserved rewards later.