Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a soil amendment fertilizer. Compost is a key ingredient in organic farming and gardening and is sometimes called black gold because of its’ dark, rich, earthy look and feel when it is ready to be used. It is the best base for a good garden, whether you grow flowers, edibles or foundation shrubs.
So Why Compost? Obviously, the compost itself is beneficial for the land in many ways. It is a natural soil conditioner, a fertilizer, adds vital humus or humic acids, and serves as a natural pesticide for soil. Most home gardeners compost for several reasons: save money by creating “good dirt” instead of purchasing bags of potting soil; find a use for leaves and grass clippings instead of hauling them off; and, they like the idea of recycling so finding a place to put kitchen scraps, paper, and cardboard appeal to them. Most importantly, compost adds nitrogen to feed plants, loosens soil to make room for roots, and nourishes microbes that help everything grow.
The process of composting simply requires making a heap of wetted organic matter (leaves, "green" food waste, etc.) and waiting for the materials to break down into humus after a period of weeks or months. The speed that materials decompose into good, usable compost material depends on getting sufficient amounts of water and air, as well as carbon and nitrogen rich materials.
Just remember this simple rhyme about composting:
Brown, green, blue, white
That’s the way to do it right.
It’s a matter of balancing carbon-heavy ingredients (brown) with nitrogen-heavy components (green), adding water (blue) and air (white).
Brown can be almost anything organic. Leaves, dry grass clippings, pine needles or pine cones all work well, and shredded cardboard or paper can also be used. Green often comes from the kitchen. Potato peels, carrot tops, leftover pieces of celery or most any kind of vegetable matter will work. Coffee grounds and eggshells are also great staples. Kitchen leftovers to avoid include meat, dairy and anything greasy. Don’t use cat or dog droppings, but manure from chickens, rabbits and other pets (any vegetarian animal) is useful.
Getting the proper proportion of green to brown is the trick to making compost. The recommended ratio is about three handfuls of brown to one handful of green. If you cannot get the exact proportions, it is not a huge problem but it will probably slow down the rate of composting.
The easiest way to compost is to simply create a pile and wait. Containers can be created or purchased that allows access to turn the material. There are many types of composting containers and worm bins (even for use indoors with limited space) which is a good subject for another day. Depending on conditions and the climate, it can take up to 20 months for the pile to decay. With a little effort, however, decent compost can be made in as little as eight to twelve weeks. Water is essential for rapid composting. The pile should be consistently moist but not soggy. The final ingredient is air, which is needed to keep the decay process going. Use of a shovel or spading fork to turn it over occasionally should do the trick. Some see this part as more of an art than a science. The pile needs to be turned often enough to keep it mixed and aired, but it also needs to have resting time to allow the process to work. Worms and fungi will further break down the material.
As mentioned above, the compost is ready to use when it looks and smells like dark, rich, loamy soil. It can be spread in a thin layer on the lawn, worked into flower beds, or used as mulch. Composting is easy, but it takes patience. For those who want to speed up the process, a compost accelerator like Compost Ignition from Southland Organics may be just the thing. Compost Ignition uses a combination of carbon, humic acid, and live biology to jump start the decomposition process, potentially shaving weeks off of your composting time.
If you are considering composting, you now have several good reasons to start and there is no time like the present. Don’t delay, start today and have a beautiful garden in no time.