Courtesy of Southern States
Did you know that environmental experts estimate that kitchen and yard wastes comprise 25% of the refuse in landfills? These materials can be easily and effectively recycled into rich humus that will improve any garden’s soil texture and add important nutrients for vigorous plant growth. (It also makes attractive and beneficial mulch.) Our experts have compiled the following information to educate our generations to come about the importance of and ease with which we can all do something great for our environment.
What Is Compost?
Compost is organic material that has been broken down by bacteria, fungi and earthworms. Such decomposition has gone on in nature since the beginning of life. The home compost pile is a simple way to accelerate this process.
Compost can be made in something as simple as a plastic garbage bag or five-gallon pail. Larger amounts of materials are easily managed in drums, barrels or bins. Structures can be made from plastic, wire, wood or masonry blocks. Your local Southern States dealer has several types of bins that can simplify the job.
Try to locate your recycling area where it is in shade, near the garden hose, on well drained soil and out of sight. A garden corner is often ideal and very convenient for using the finished compost.
What Materials Compost Well?
Any organic material can be composted, but some materials are more desirable than others. Yard wastes such as grass clippings, leaves, twigs and frost damaged plants decompose well, as do kitchen wastes such as vegetable peelings, fruit scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells. Avoid composting meat, bones and dairy products as they may attract rodents and other animals.
In an ideal situation, you should use 3 times as much high-carbon material (twigs, branches, sawdust, pine needles, straw and leaves) as high-nitrogen material (fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, grass clippings and manure). In general, materials that have been shredded or cut into small pieces will decompose faster.
Maintain The Right Conditions
Although composting is more of an art than an exact science, there are a few basic rules. First, it is important to remember that decomposition depends upon continuous microbial activity. (Bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms use the organic materials as energy sources.) Oxygen, moisture and temperature and the types of material affect the rate of decomposition.
Start by layering compost materials 6-8 inches deep and moisten with water to the consistency of a squeezed out sponge. Add more materials in layers.
Turn the compost pile weekly to create more available oxygen. Some decomposition occurs under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions, but the process is slow and produces foul odors.
Maintain the moisture level of a squeezed out sponge. Too much water pushes oxygen from the air spaces and creates anaerobic conditions. Water the layers of materials as you add to them and water the pile during dry periods.
Temperature, both inside and outside the compost pile, affects decomposition. Inside temperatures between 90° and 140° F help destroy undesirable weed seeds and diseases. Outside temperatures of 50° F or higher are recommended.
Follow these guidelines and in 6 to 12 months you’ll have rich organic material for improving your garden’s soil and mulching plants.