Making Compost

More and more people these days are learning to make compost, and for good reason. Making compost is a simple process which offers many benefits to gardens and the environment.

When you make compost with your garden refuse and kitchen scraps, you are creating fertilizer for your plants and conserving landfill space. Compost will improve your soil, giving it the ability to hold moisture and drain well. Even hard clay soil will be improved with a liberal addition of compost.

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If you want to make your own compost, the process can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. A variety of compost bins and tumblers can be purchased or you can make your own bin with pallets, fencing or cinder blocks. Or you can take a casual approach to making compost and simply leave your compost materials in a pile in a back corner of your yard without a bin.

Youll' be more likely to add to the compost pile if it is located in a convenient spot. It should be fairly close to the kitchen so scraps from meal preparation can easily be added. In cooler climates, locate the compost pile in an area where the sun will help to heat it, but in warm climates it should be in the shade where it won't dry out quite as quickly.

To make compost, you'll need a good mix of brown and green material. Brown materials for making compost would include things like dried leaves, coffee grounds, shredded paper or straw. Green materials include grass clippings, vegetable scraps from the kitchen and fresh garden refuse such as overripe or spoiled vegetables.

Every compost expert has different ideas as to the ratio of brown to green ingredients needed to make compost. Some experts recommend as much as 25 parts brown material to one part green material. But in reality, you may not have available those exact amounts of brown to green materials. You can still make compost, keeping in mind that there should be more brown material than green. These brown and green ingredients, along with some soil, are added in layers to make compost.

Avoid adding bones, meat scraps, cooking oil or dairy products to your compost. These items decompose slowly and will attract animals and flies to your compost pile. When you feed your compost pile, think of it as a vegetarian.

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Wood ash can be used as an ingredient to make compost, provided it isn't added too heavily. Wood ashes will add potassium to the finished compost but they are also alkaline. No more than two gallons of wood ash should be added to a three-foot square compost pile. Coal ash and charcoal should never be added to compost.

Manure is also a good addition for making compost, but manure from meat-eating animals should be avoided. Manure contains a great deal of nitrogen and also beneficial microbes that will help the composting process. Cow manure makes a great fertilizer, but it should be composted before adding it to the garden because fresh manure is so strong or hot that it will burn tender plants. Manure from rabbits, goats and llamas is not so hot and can be mixed directly into the garden soil or added to the compost pile. Horse manure generally contains a lot of weed seeds and is very high in nitrogen. Horse manure should be composted for at least one year before it is applied to the garden, and the compost should be allowed to heat up quite a bit to help kill off the weed seeds.

If you're lucky enough to live near the ocean, you can make compost with seaweed. Seaweed is high in nutrients and will decompose quickly, but be sure to rinse off the salt before adding seaweed to the compost pile. Crushed lobster or crab shells are another good addition to the compost pile.

If it is kept moist, the pile of green and brown material will heat up and make compost more quickly. Compost should be as moist as a sponge that has been wrung out. Too much or too little moisture will slow the decomposition process.

A compost pile that is cooking properly will feel warm or hot inside the pile, and on cool days it may even give off steam. If the temperature inside the pile is no warmer than the air temperature, the pile needs more green material and perhaps more moisture. The ideal temperature within the pile for making compost is between 104 and 131 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature becomes higher than 131 degrees, the microbes that aid in decomposition will be killed, and at temperatures below 104 degrees the compost won't cook very well.

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To make good compost, air circulation is also important. A compost pile that is regularly mixed or turned will decompose much faster than one that is never turned. But given enough time, even a compost pile that is never turned will eventually decompose and make compost.

An enclosed container can be used to make compost, so long as the container has plenty of air circulation and the material is regularly stirred up. If moist compost material is added to an enclosed container that offers no air circulation, the mixture will become a smelly, soupy mess. If the material is too dry, it won't break down at all. Use an enclosed container for making compost only if it has small openings to allow air to reach the composting material.

Smaller bits of material will break down and make compost much more quickly than larger pieces. Rather than tossing whole cornstalks onto the compost pile, chop them up into smaller pieces first. When it's time to add that old jack o'lantern to the compost pile after Halloween, go ahead and smash it first. Eggshells will add calcium to the finished compost, but they decompose slowly and should be dried and crushed to help them compost faster. Before dumping kitchen scraps onto the compost pile, some folks give them a whirl in the blender along with a little water. This soup will break down and make compost quite quickly. Rather than pouring the blended mixture over the top of the pile, dig a little hole and bury the mixture in the compost pile to prevent it from stinking up your backyard.

Have you hesitated to make compost because you are concerned about the smell of a compost pile or worried that it will attract rodents? Simply bury fresh materials in the middle of the pile or cover the smelly material with some soil. Burying the material in the pile will add some needed air circulation, and the addition of soil will also include some helpful microbes that will aid in breaking down the material.

Finished compost will look like good rich black soil and have a pleasant earthy smell. Compost can be used as a mulch or soil amendment and can be added liberally to your garden. To amend soil with compost, spread two to three inches of compost over the soil before working it into the top six inches of soil. Add another half inch each succeeding year to maintain the soil quality.

Use compost to fertilize existing perennials and shrubs by applying the compost as a side dressing in late spring or early summer. To side dress a plant, apply a ring of compost about an inch away from the stem, then carefully scratch it into the soil a bit. The compost can also be left on the soil surface where rainfall will wash its nutrients into the soil for the plant. When planting any new plant in the garden, it will settle into its new home more quickly if a generous handful of compost is mixed in with the soil.

Make your own compost for your garden and you will soon understand why it is called black gold. Compost is without a doubt the best thing for your soil and your plants.

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