Today we compost plant and vegetable matter because it is an effective way to reduce the amount of waste at our landfills, creates healthier landscapes, feeds our gardens, retains moisture and is the most cost effective way to improve soil. To successfully compost you need water, food and air. The following steps will ensure healthy compost.
- The ideal compost pile size is at least 1 cubic yard. This ensures that the pile is large enough that it doesn’t dry out or lose heat too quickly. This size is also not too large so that air doesn’t reach the center of the pile. Place your compost bin on a well-drained site. Larger items should be cut into smaller pieces for quicker break down. Leaves can be shredded with the lawnmower
- There are two types of food required to create compost. They are the nitrogen rich materials, or 'green' as some may call it, and the carbon rich materials also known as 'brown materials'. Nitrogen rich materials include plant trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps, fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds and tea leaves. Carbon rich materials include dry leaves, straw, sawdust, hay and newsprint. In the summer I find I may be short brown material so I collect leaves in the fall and put them aside so they are available when I need them in my compost.
- The carbon rich materials are mixed with the nitrogen rich materials. To achieve the desired carbon nitrogen ratio you need a thin layer of nitrogen rich materials and a few inches of carbon rich materials. For example, I alternate 1 inch of grass clippings or food waste from the kitchen and 4 or 5 inches of shredded leaves or straw. A good balance of nitrogen, carbon and moisture will provide the right conditions for the microbes to break down the organic matter and create rich humus.
- Sprinkle each layer with water as you build the compost. The compost should be damp like a wrung out sponge. Layer wet sloppy materials such as fruit wastes with absorbent materials such as sawdust or shredded leaves.
- Turn the compost pile at least every other week to ensure air circulation. If you have a plastic composter poke holes to create air passages using a compost tool (wingdigger), broom handle or stick.
- Most compost problems are easily remedied by adjusting the ingredients, water and air. For example if your compost is quite wet and smelly you can add some carbon rich items such as shredded leaves or shredded newspaper and turn the pile. This will absorb the excess moisture, add the needed carbon to balance the ingredients and aerate the compost.
- If your compost is not breaking down and the center of the pile is dry, add water so compost is thoroughly moist like a damp sponge and cover. If compost is not breaking down due to a thick layer of grass, break up layer and add dry leaves, hay or straw. Combine items, moisten compost and cover.
- Do not include fats, meat, dairy, barbecue ash, coals or bones. These attract rodents, bears and other wild animals and also break down slowly. If you decide to build your own compost bin it is a good idea to line the compost bin with wire to keepout pests. Covering the compost bin also assures that the compost doesn’t get too wet in our rainy climate and retains the moisture in the compost. Turning the compost pile also releases excess water. Do not use magazines or glossy flyers in the compost since they may include harmful chemicals in the ink. If your compost temperature does not reach 160 degrees do not put in weed seeds or infected plants and never put in invasive plants. ie ivy, bind weed, horsetail etc.