Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks
You may have heard the term composting in terms of farming or gardening but you never quite knew what it meant. In fact, you may have gotten it confused with fertilizing. How is composting different than fertilizing? Compost is actually a form of fertilizing that is more organic. It involves the mixture of organic material such as kitchen scraps or old paper products. These materials are mixed together into a substance known as humus. Pronounced “hyoo-mus,” it is much different than the hummus you use as dip. When humus is combined with soil it is called compost.
The first step of composting is locating and obtaining a bin. Bins that are built for holding compost are not difficult to find. They are ideally either 3’ x 3’ x 3’ or 5’ x 5’ x 5’. Your local hardware or gardening store should have them in stock. Alternately you can build one out of chicken wire or wood. To keep the compost from drying out, you might want to keep the bin in a shaded area or under a large patio umbrella.
You can’t simply toss all of the organic material into the compost bin and expect the right results. There is a process to making the best and most useful compost. In order to do so you will need to alternate between using green and brown materials. Green materials are nitrogen-based and include grass, manure, vegetables, tea leaves, seaweed and coffee grounds. Brown materials on the other hand are carbon-based and include dead plants, cardboard and hay. Any large items should be broken up before they are put into the compost bin. After you add a layer of green or brown material, sprinkle it with water. Compost needs to stay moist. Be careful not to douse it with too much water. A light, single spray should be enough. For more information on this mixing process, visit Composting Toilet & Reedbed Systems.
If done correctly, organisms such as earthworms will begin inhabiting and helping to decompose your compost. At this point you should remember to turn the material with a pitchfork or shovel approximately every two weeks. In doing so, bring the material from the bottom to the top and from the inside to the outside. Along the way, break apart matted clumps. Turning the soil like this allows for proper aeration and helps the right type of bacteria thrive.
Eventually, the fruits of your labor will be realized and there will be a usable, nutrient-rich layer of compost at the bottom of the pile. Consult Composting for the Homeowner to help you determine if your compost is ready for use. Once you have determined that the bottom layer is ready, use it immediately. There are two approaches to applying soil. If you haven’t planted any crops yet, you could mix it in with the soil. Alternately, you can just spread and layer it on top of the soil as you would do with mulch.
No yard? No problem! Composting can be done indoors as well and it’s great for house plants and window gardens. Keep a small bin in your garage or under your kitchen sink. Poke small holes in the bin to provide aeration. Then alternate adding kitchen scraps and old bedding materials and mix the concoction every two weeks.
In addition to composting, you should always make sure to make other efforts to protect your garden. One suggested method is to invest in a nice aluminum umbrella that can shade your plants from too much sunlight that could dry them out. Umbrellas can be purchased cheaply in many shapes and sizes. For further reading on composting, visit the following websites.