Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Compost 101

Before I dive into this, one of the things you will quickly learn about me from my blog is that I love being outside. I believe seriously in composting our kitchen wastes and I love worms. Worms tell me that we have some good balance going on in the soil, that there is plenty for the worms to eat and they leave behind plenty of their poop, which is very good for our soil as well. 
I actually took a Master Composting class once in another county that I lived in before Midland and I found it interesting that people really were over thinking this and making it complicated. This is SIMPLE. I suppose it is somewhat of a science, but don't even think about it. Just do it. 

What is composting?
Composting is a natural process of recycling organic materials. It's taking something that is waste and recycling it into something beneficial. Like leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc.

Benefits of Composting:
Improves soil and plant health, conserves water and reduces us of garden chemicals.
Keeps stuff out of landfills. Not all towns or cities have a recycle program for leaves, trees, etc,
Saves you money since you won't need to buy any good soil or compost.

Types of Composting:
Cold Composting ( easy, not much effort, slower )
Hot Composting ( fast, more effort)

I generally do cold composting, taking kitchen scraps out every day or so and add to my 'spot' and occasionally turn it, water it, add manure to it. I have an on going compost, so anytime I have ever needed any, I can dig down a bit and have good, black soil. It smells amazing! Periodically, I like to dig a bit to see if I see worms. I take coffee grounds out very often and worms like coffee grounds. I wonder if the caffeine causes them to work faster loosening up the soil... 

Cold Composting:

  • low maintenance
  • can add materials as they become available
  • doesn't heat up enough to kill weed seeds
  • can cause a smell if there becomes an in balance, although, I have never experienced this. 

  • grass clippings
  • brown leaves
  • twigs
  • water
  • kitchen scraps-NO MEAT, FAT, CITRUS

  1. Start your pile in an area where water doesn't puddle when it rains, but near enough for you to be able to water it and it's convenient to add materials to.
  2. Put yard trimmings, leaves in a pile as collected. Moisten dry materials as they are added. Mix grass clippings with leave or composting materials already in pile. 
  3. I add horse and chicken manure, but no sweat if you don't have any. 
  4. I seriously do not stir or mix but maybe once a week or so. This is NOT the textbook way, but it does work. 
  5. Add kitchen scraps as often as they become available. 
  6. Cover with black plastic (a trash bag)  to keep moist. But nothing bad will happen if you don't. It just keeps it warm, moist and composting. I haven't ever done this. I have thought of it before though...
When you do stir it around, at the bottom of your pile, if it looks like dark, rich soil, rake all the undecomposed  materials next to it to start over and harvest the compost. It should have worms and smell earthy.

Hot Composting:
Adding leaves

  • heats up enough to kill most weed seeds and pathogens
  • uses space efficiently
  • labor intensive (like daily)
  • must be built all at once
  • requires paying attention to the moisture and carbon/nitrogen ratio

  • grass clippings or other high-nitrogen material such as green leaves, cottonseed meal, etc
  • brown leaves
  • twigs
  • Watering and mixing

  • water

  1. Use a bin or a circle of fencing. Just something to contain your materials. It can be any shape you want. 
  2. Place it where water won't puddle when it rains, but near a water source.
  3. Place about 6 inches of brown materials at the bottom
  4. add 1-2 inches of green material 
  5. Mix with a pitchfork and moisten the materials (must!)
  6. Repeat until bin is full
  7. Monitor the heat in the pile with a compost thermometer (walmart).
  8. Turn the pile once it has heated and starts to cool, usually about a week. 
  9. Monitor again, turn again.
  10. Repeat this until it won't reheat. Your pile will be considerably smaller.
  11. Let compost cure for a few weeks before using.
  12. Finished bin
Once you feel comfortable with the whole composting thing, you can have several going at once, staggering their start ups so you will always have good stuff available.
TADA!! Compost!
No need to let it sit there to cure if you want to use it as a mulch.

Now, go outside and start some type of compost today!! Get a bucket or use a bowl, etc and begin saving vegetable trimmings, skins, grape vines, egg shells, tea bags, coffee and filters, paper cup cake papers, any bread, cooked vegetables, potato peels, etc. I think you get the idea. Just start and before long you won't even need to think about it. You can even compost dryer lint, cardboard, newspaper, manures, but no dog, cat or pig poo. 


BeckyJ said...

I'm so glad I read this! We have been composting for over a year and a half, but we haven't added any chicken manure because we weren't sure if you could do that. I read somewhere you shouldn't, that it was dangerous, so that scared me. Should have known better! My husband built a fabulous rotating composter out of a black pickle barrel. I am planning to blog about it soon.
Thanks for the confidence boost!

Vanessa said...

Hey Evelyn! For some reason the email I tried sending you was returned. Feel free to share about the sew-a-long on your blog! Thanks :)

Evelyn Dalton said...

Becky-I'm so glad that helped you!! So many people are unsure of composting info. I really am not too orderly about it. I meant to add a pic of my pathetic compost, but it was dark when I was blogging. I'll be excited to read about your composting barrel!

Jacki said...

omg, I laughed so hard at the idea of hyped-up worms composting!

So, why not citrus? I had no idea. It's not like I have a place to have a compost pile, but maybe I will one day!