Everyone, even beginning gardeners, has heard of the value of composting. However, not everyone knows the rules of composting and its use. Many people think that all they need to do to have a successful compost pile is to dump their waste and plant trimmings in the same place during the summer and they will be ready for the spring. However, this is far from the case, and a lot of work needs to be done to make your compost a truly valuable material. In this ThumbGarden article, we’ll discuss what composting is and how to make it.
What is Composting?
If you consult an encyclopedia, you will find a precise description of what compost is: compost is an organic residue that decomposes under the influence of various microorganisms to produce organic fertilizer. Therefore, it requires several components: the organic matter itself, microorganisms, and living conditions for their activity. With this in mind, let’s see how to make compost with your own hands.
What is Compost Made Of?
The first thing to realize when building a compost pile is that not everything can be thrown into the pile.
What Can You Put in a Compost Pile?
All vegetable scraps (grass clippings, twig fragments, weeds, leaves, traction), organic waste from the kitchen table (vegetable peelings, eggshells, tea bubbles, coffee grounds), used straw, hay, manure (preferably horse or cow manure), paper, bedding for cattle.
What Should Not Be Put in the Compost Pile?
Harmful: diseased plants, roots of malignant weeds, grease, inorganic waste, synthetic fabrics. Cabbage should not be put in compost because its decomposition produces an unpleasant odor, nor should meat waste be put in compost because it not only stinks but also attracts rodents.
But that’s not all. When making compost, there are two rules to remember. The first is that the finer the waste, the faster it will decompose. Second, the ratio of green (nitrogen-rich) to brown (fiber-poor) material should be 1:5. This ratio allows bacteria to develop fully and will greatly speed up the composting process.
Since it is difficult to make a compost pile all at once, and in most cases, the pile is placed gradually, it is difficult to judge by eye how much green and brown material is being put into it. However, there are some principles that provide guidance on what needs to be added: if a compost pile has an unpleasant odor, it is missing the brown component; if it is cool and has no noticeable odor, green material must be added. If kept in balance, the compost should smell earthy and give off a warm, moist, and slightly steamy odor.
Ideally, residue compost is laid in layers, alternating not only green and brown fillers but also finer and coarser components. After the final formation, it is covered with a layer of 2 inches (5 cm) of soil and then covered with old straw or specially perforated (for ventilation) film.
Creating a Compost Heap
Collecting organic residues in one place is not what it is described. For convenience and a neat appearance, the composting area should be fenced. However, it is best not to do this with slabs of stone or metal, but by forming a wooden frame. This is to allow the pile to “breathe”. The size of the box should be roughly 60×40 inches (1.5×1 meter) (the first number is the width, the second number is the height), and the length can be anything.
The location chosen for the compost pile is also important. First, it must be sheltered from the wind and the hot midday sun. Secondly, it must be hidden from view. If necessary, it should be decorated with green plants or climbing plants.
The best time for composting is in the fall, spring and summer when there is an abundance of crop residues. Winter is not a good time for composting due to unfavorable temperature conditions.
Before you start laying down organic material, it is best to place a 4 inches (10 cm) thick layer of film or peat at the bottom of the pile, and sunk 8 inches (20 cm) into the ground. This will save nutrients and water. Do not use the compost pit method, as excess moisture often collects in the pit, which makes composting more difficult and time-consuming.
Take Care of the Compost Pile
Now that you know the basic principles of making compost, you must also remember the rules of taking care of the compost, because whether the compost has time to form, is full and of good quality depends on following these rules. And these rules are very simple.
The compost pile should be turned once a month. Doing so facilitates the most complete mixing of the residues. This will make the organic matter friable, enriching it with oxygen and allowing it to burn rather than decay. If you find it difficult to shovel out the pile, at least prick it on all sides with a pitchfork.
It is important to keep the compost pile moist. If it gets dry, moisten it regularly. However, you must not overdo it here, but remember, wet doesn’t mean soggy! You have to be patient enough. Too much moisture replaces the air and therefore impairs the function of the bacteria needed for composting. Therefore, carefully water your compost pile with a watering can rather than a hose, preferably underwatering rather than overwatering. During heavy rains and after watering – cover with cling film.
If you want to speed up the composting process, make sure there is enough nitrogen in the pile – it can be found in the green plant parts and manure slurry. We discussed above how to find out its deficiencies.
Indicators of Composting
How long it takes for compost to mature depends on the conditions provided for it. Typically, organic residues take 1-1.5 years to fully mature. The readiness of the compost can be determined by sight and smell – it turns into crumbly, dark brown lumps with a woody, earthy odor.