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Composting

Compost is a mixture of decayed or decaying organic matter which is used to fertilize soil. Compost is usually made by gathering plant material, such as leaves, grass clippings and vegetable peels, into a pile or bin and letting it decompose as a result of the action of aerobic bacteria, fungi, and other organisms.

How to compost:

You don’t need any equipment other than a garden fork and a spare bit of ground. You can also buy various types of bins which minimise the space needed for composting.
1. Start your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to gain access and aerate the compost. They will also be transported to your garden beds when you spread the final product and help the plants grow.
2. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
3. Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry.
• Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc.
• Dry materials are straw, leaves, sawdust pellets and wood ashes.
If you have wood fire ashes, sprinkle in thin layers sparingly, or they will clump together and be slow to break down. Ash is alkaline and can affect the pH of the pile.
4. Add manure, green manure (clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.
5. Keep the compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.
6. Cover the pile with anything you have - wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered by rain.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to adding more material to your compost pile. Compost piles can either be layered – thin layers of alternating greens and browns, or they can all be thrown in together and mixed well. Either way works!

Once your compost pile has established, add new materials by mixing them in, rather than by adding them in layers. Mixing, or turning, the compost pile aids aeration of the composting materials and speeds up the process. For faster results, use a compost turner or garden fork to mix the material every two weeks and aerate your pile.

Got compost?

When finished it should look, feel and smell like rich, dark soil. You should not be able to recognize any of the items you put in there. The finished compost is usually less than half the volume of the materials you started with.

Hints and Tips:

Let the worms in - whether you buy a bin or just pile up the material, making compost on the ground allows soil organisms to entire to help in the rotting process.

The perfect size for a compost pile is one that is at least 1 cubic metre. It’s not only a manageable size to turn, but it’s ideal for retaining heat while still allowing air flow.

Add fine material to the compost heap or bin as it becomes available. The finer the material you add the more quickly it will turn into usable compost. Break up twigs or run them over with the lawnmower before adding. If you have a mulcher, pass branches through the mulcher first. There’s no point adding thick woody pieces as they will take years to rot.

The microbes responsible for breaking down your compost pile need a balanced diet of nitrogen and carbon. Good compost is produced by blending leafy ‘green’ matter (Nitrogen - from green materials such as food scraps, manure, and grass clippings) with harder ‘brown’ matter (Carbon - from brown materials such as dead leaves, hay, wood chips and shredded newspaper). Newspaper or plain white paper from the computer is excellent for composting – just remember to shred it first to speed up the process. A ratio that contains equal portions by weight (not volume) of both works best.

Try to add the brown and green matter in layers, not making any layer too thick. If you put in too much green matter, the compost may go sludgy and smelly. Too much brown matter and it won’t break down quickly. With a good balance of the two, composting will proceed quickly.

Don’t compost fats, pet droppings, or animal products as they will attract pests to the pile and can spread disease.
Worms love coffee grounds!

Plants that have been treated with pesticides and/or herbicides (weeds and lawn clippings) should be avoided.

Algae and seaweed make excellent additions to your compost pile. Be sure to rinse off any salts before using.

Compost decomposes fastest between 48 ˚C and 71˚C. Decomposition will occur at lower temperatures, but it takes much longer.

Keep your compost pile in a black plastic bin and in direct sunlight to continue the composting process through the winter. Hay bales can be used to further insulate the pile.

Wooden pallets make excellent compost bins. Start with one pallet on the ground. Drive two metal stakes into each side. Slide additional pallets over each support and you have a bin ready for compost.

Straw is an excellent source of carbon for your compost pile. However, it may contain weed seeds, so make sure the pile is “cooking” properly.

Compost piles should remain damp but not too wet. As you build your compost pile, make sure that each layer is moist as it is added. The surface should also remain damp (think of a wrung out sponge), especially during the summer months.

Does your compost pile smell? It’s probably due to a large number of anaerobic microbes, which are working hard to break down your compost, but creating a smelly situation in the process. To cut down on the anaerobic process, aerate your pile regularly, creating air spaces and limiting the anaerobic microbes while stimulating the less stinky aerobic microbes.

Help start a new compost pile with aged manure, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, blood meal, or compost starter. They are rich in nitrogen and help jump-start the microbes responsible for breaking down organic matter into compost.

Soak finished compost in water to “brew” compost tea, a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used for foliar feeding or for watering plants in your garden, backyard, or houseplants.

Apply finished compost to your garden about 2-4 weeks before you plant, giving the compost time to integrate and stabilize within the soil.

Too much waste?

One problem many gardeners face in making compost is that they generate too much of one material. Lawn clippings are a good example as they often make up the bulk of waste generated in a garden. If you just pour them into the compost bin they often do not compost properly and if you don’t have enough balancing ‘dry’ matter, you cannot layer the clippings as you should.

Compost tumblers were designed primarily for grass clippings as the tumbling action aerates the grass and assists in its rapid decomposition. If you don’t have one, either spread the clippings thinly over garden beds or pile them up separately, moistening them down between each grass-catcher load. Cover the moistened heap.

Excessive fallen fruit can be another disposal problem. Its moisture content will make compost bins sludgy if it is all tipped in so use some in the compost bin (preferably with other materials) and bury the rest in holes in the garden.

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