AN INTRODUCTION TO COMPOSTING

7. May 2007, 17:18 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

Composting is a simple way of converting organic waste into humus. This rich dark humus produced by micro-organisms is called compost. Composting produces a natural inexpensive (free) soil additive to help increase lawn, flower, tree and vegetable growth.

Composting can reduce domestic waste volumes by about one third. The average family in North America produces between 250 and 300 kilograms (550 to 650 pounds) of organic waste in a year. Most of this ends up in landfills where it can contribute to pollution, or at best go to waste (if you’ll pardon the pun). By recyling this organic waste into compost, landfills get some relief and a cheap or free garden additive is produced with minimal investment of time and resources.

Using compost can increase the organic matter in soil and help build sound root structures in plants. It helps make clay soils porous so they drain better and helps sandy soils retain moisture. It helps attract and feed earthworms, and balances the pH of soil. It can aid in the control of soil erosion and reduce stress on plants from freezing or drought. Compost added to gardens can improve the vitamin and mineral content in foods and generously applied can replace or reduce reliance on petrochemical fertilizers.

Things that can be added to create compost include:

  • Dry grass
  • Garden plants
  • Mulched leaves
  • Pulled weeds
  • Soft plant stems
  • Old potting soil
  • Fruit scraps
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Shredded paper
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Pine needles and cones (small amounts)
  • Walnut leaves (small amounts)
  • Wood chips (small amounts)

Do NOT add things such as:

  • Meat scraps
  • Bones
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Oils
  • Cheese, meat or sauces
  • Plastics
  • Metals
  • Glass
  • Stone
  • Pet or human excrement

Starting with available organic material, moisten the dry parts lightly and mix whatever material you have together along with some old compost material, composter manure, leaf mould, compost starter or rich loam soil. Add your daily kitchen scraps and garden trimmings and sprinkle each layer with some old compost working it in. Composting works best when the material is in small pieces so shred material whenever possible.

Do not add thick layers of any one type of material; grass to a maximum depth of two and one half inches and leaves up to six inches deep. To prevent compacting, mix grass with coarse material. The composting materials should be kept moist but not wet. If they are too dry it will take a long time to become compost, and if too wet they will rot. Mix the compost thoroughly every couple of weeks or each time new material is added to keep the compost well aerated. Composting should be done in some sort of ventilated container. On cool days close the vents to preserve heat and on humid days open them to reduce excessive moisture. Several commercial units are available as well as numerous build-it-yourself plans.

The composting process can take any time from a couple of months to a couple of years, depending on the effort expended. To accelerate the process, the pile must have a balance of dry and humid material (preferrably shredded) be watered thoroughly and mixed frequently.

If the composting process seems not to be proceeding as expected the following are some troubleshooting tips:

SymptomProbable CauseSolution

Bad Odor Not enough air
or
Too much water
Turn the pile and add carbon rich material
Decrease watering or protect from heavy rains
Center of pile is dry Not enough water Moisten and turn the pile

Cold or only the center of pile is warm Not enough material
or
Outside layer exposed to dryness
Add material and turn the pile
Cover the pile with jute/burlap and add nitrogen rich material

Attracts undesireable insects and animals Inappropriate covering of recently added kitchen waste
or
presence of non-recommended material
Cover kitchen waste with soil, leaves or old compost
Remove non-recommended materials

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Categories: ,
Keywords: compost,composting recycle,green,soil,mulch

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