Composting 101

Published by Bucks Country Gardens in Bucks Country GardensLandscapeLawn & GardenPlants

There’s an on-going trend these days to live a greener, cleaner life. Leave a smaller footprint; reduce, reuse and recycle; upcycle household goods and furniture; use alternative energy and so on. It makes sense. With more people on this Earth than ever before producing more waste and trash than needed, it’s wise to take steps now to reduce what we leave behind long after we are gone.

One of the easiest and most beneficial ways we can make a difference is to compost. Composting reduces the amount of waste each of us sends to the landfill. In fact, up to 30% of the material we send to landfill is organic and could be composted at home. Composting has other benefits, too. Applying finished compost returns nutrients to the land, holds moisture in gardens and on lawns, contributes to watershed health by controlling run-off and naturally fertilizes and provides structure to the soil.

Here is a basic introduction to composting and it can be fun when the whole family participates. Give it a try–your garden, and trash collector, will thank you for it!

2298564117_b9ba35d18c_oCompost is the rich-humus material that results from composting. There is an old saying that refers to crude oil as “Black Gold”. For serious gardeners, the term “Black Gold” better describes well-aged compost. Compost contributes nutrients and beneficial life to the soil and improves soil structure. It also helps the soil absorb and retain moisture and protects plants from diseases and pests. Use it to enrich the flower and vegetable garden and the soil around shrubs and trees. Better moisture retention means less watering, allowing you to conserve water and reduce runoff pollution. Compost can be added to your garden soil at anytime of the year.

14327816790_4fda50e893_oComposting is the controlled decomposition (decay) of organic materials such as yard trimmings, manure, kitchen scraps, wood shavings, cardboard, and paper. Proper care must be taken when composting kitchen scraps: leftover food and scraps can be composted but meat, bones and fatty foods (such as cheese, salad dressing, and leftover cooking oil) should be put in the garbage. Other materials can be used such as weeds, flower or vegetable garden waste (disease-free). Layering of materials can be useful, but a complete mixing of ingredients is preferable for the composting process.

To create a compost pile, choose a spot on your property that is convenient so you’ll use it, has good sun exposure, and is in a well-drained area. Next, build or buy a bin to keep the compost pile neat and tidy. Purchase a tumbler composter to make aeration as easy as a turn of the crank. Then begin adding your collected organic materials and some moisture. To help the decaying process a bit, add Espoma Organic Compost Starter. It is an all-natural composting aid that helps break down hard to compost items.

A large compost pile will insulate itself and hold the heat of microbial activity. Its center will be warmer than its edges so maintain a pile that is between 3–5 cubic feet. Piles smaller than 3 cubic feet, will have trouble holding this heat, while piles larger than 5 cubic feet don’t allow enough air to reach the microbes at the center.

All living things need a certain amount of water and air to sustain itself. The microbes in the compost pile are no different. They function best when the compost materials are about as moist as a wrung-out sponge 4849153389_c76c50d9d3_oand are provided with many air passages. Extremes of sun or rain can adversely affect this moisture balance in your pile. For compost sooner than later, turn the pile over with a pitchfork once every ten days to two weeks. Composting consumes large amounts of oxygen and if oxygen is limited, the decaying process slows down. Offensive odors are usually a good indication of a need for more aeration. To resolve, be sure to turn the compost pile every couple of days and add coarser material. Once your pile has finished breaking down, the end result will be a dark brown/black soil. At this point, your new soil, or “Black Gold” according to avid gardeners, is ready to add to your garden.

If you start building your compost pile in spring, adding to it over the summer, mixing and lifting the materials to add air and keep the moisture level similar to that of a wrung-out sponge, you can have compost before the snow flies! And if not, you will at least have finished compost by the following spring.

While materials will not readily break down in cold weather, they will quickly decompose as soon as the weather warms in the spring. So, keep adding compostables year-round. As we dig compost into our gardens and spread it thinly on our lawns, our land becomes nutrient-rich and better able to hold moisture!

 

David Jones – Horticulturist, Arborist, & Customer Service Specialist
Nancy McIlvaine – Hardgoods Manager