- How to Compost Correctly
by Dawn Walls-Thumma, Demand Media
Compost happens -- from farmers' fields to the forest floor, soil microbes break down dead plant and animal material into soil organic matter, all without fancy bins and tumblers or understanding the meaning of terms like carbon-nitrogen ratio. In nature, however, composting can be a slow process. Many gardeners want compost for their gardens quickly, in a matter of months or even weeks. For these gardeners, paying closer attention to what goes into the pile and how they handle the pile can make the process far more time-efficient. (See References 1)
Items you will need:
Compost bin or tumbler (optional)
"Brown" and "green" materials for composting
Hose or watering can
Select an appropriate spot for your compost pile, bin or tumbler. Dry, shady spots work best; if possible, locate your pile near a water source and the garden where you intend to use the compost (see References 2).
Shred or chop ingredients into small pieces; smaller pieces break down faster.
Spread a 6-inch layer of "browns," dried materials rich in carbon, such as dead leaves or paper shreds (see References 2). If necessary, use a hose or watering can to moisten the materials until they feel as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Add 3-inch layers of nitrogen-rich "greens" alternated with 3-inch layers of the browns; these are moist, fresh materials, like kitchen scraps, vegetarian livestock manures and fresh grass clippings. Moisten the layer if needed. In order to achieve optimal performance of your compost heap, you should maintain at least a 3-to-1 ratio of browns to greens (see References 2). Your pile should be at least about a cubic yard to achieve the heat that helps break down the materials into compost (see References 5, page 174).
Sprinkle a handful of healthy garden soil or finished compost on top; this boosts levels of soil microbes needed to break down materials into compost (see References 3).
Turn your compost pile every one to two weeks using a garden fork. Mix the layers and check for pockets that are dry or over-saturated. Add water, as needed, or mix wet patches in with drier materials. Pull materials from the sides of the pile into the middle of the heap, where they will heat up and break down faster. (See References 2, References 4, page 170)
1. Don't compost materials such as meat, bones, dairy products, grease and oil, diseased plant materials, weeds with seeds, herbicide-treated grass and plant clippings and pet wastes. These materials often break down slowly, draw vermin to compost or risk the health of your garden plants. (See References 2, References 4, page 174)
1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Understanding the Composting Process (http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/rrr/composting/science.htm)
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Create Your Own Compost Pile (http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/rrr/composting/by_compost.htm)
3. U.S. Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service: Composting (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/newsroom/features/?&cid=nrcs143_023537)
4. "Compost Science & Utilization"; Effect of Turning and Vessel Type on Compost Temperature and Composition in Backyard (Amateur) Composting; P. D. Alexander; June 2007 ()
About the Author
First published in 2000, Dawn Walls-Thumma has served as an editor for Bartleby and Antithesis Common literary magazines. Her work has been published academically and in creative journals. Walls-Thumma writes about education, gardening and sustainable living. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and writing from University of Maryland and is a graduate student in education at American Public University
For more information visit http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/compost-correctly-2358.html?source=glnl
- Posted: 4/25/12
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