The Basics of Composting
Some of the most popular composting methods include tumblers, bins and piles. Compost tumblers are large bins that can be “tumbled” to mix compost as it is added. Large piles are usually composted directly on open ground, and bins are usually stationary containers where compost is simply dumped into the bin.
Starting the pile on bare earth may be more effective than using a bin or tumbler because beneficial worms and other organisms can help to aerate the mix and may continue to live in it when you transfer it to your plants.
If a traditional compost pile is being used, you will need a fork or rake to turn the contents of the pile. Using a stationary bin can make the process of turning the compost more difficult. If you have limited space and need to keep your compost close to a building, a compost tumbler is probably the best option. If you have the space, a pile is probably the most effective way to compost (this pile should be kept away from building and living areas because it may attract unwanted pests).
You should start your compost with a variety of plant matter. Grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, and straw are great starting materials. You can also use eggshells, hair, bone meal, or dried blood.
Other great composting materials include chicken manure, coffee grounds and filters, newspaper (without colored inks or gloss), tea leaves and bags, cardboard, shredded paper (not glossy or with inks), corn cob stalks, flowers and shrub cuttings, pine needles (in moderate amounts), saw dust, wood chips and ash (from clean-burned wood and paper).
To speed up the composting cycle, add a layer of garden soil to the mix, and turn your pile at least once a week. The more frequently the materials are mixed together, the faster composting will take place. It is also important that composts have access to as much heat and moisture as possible. This can be obtained naturally if the compost is placed in a light area that receives some rain.
You can also lightly spray the compost to moisten it (just don’t overdo it, since too much water can slow down the process). It may also be good to cover it with a tarp to help hold in moisture. You can also speed up composting, by cutting up the materials into smaller portions before adding them to the pile.
A compost is ready to be used when it has degraded into a dark, dirt-like material.
Materials to Avoid
Avoid animal fats, meats, grease, or bones: These are not the best compost materials and can attract unwanted guests. Do not use weeds that have already gone to seed. The seed will sprout, and weeds will take over. Also avoid putting diseased plant clippings in the pile.
Compost should never be used as a sole planting material. It is best used as an additive to soil. The presence of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and water in compost, helps to make soil richer and more breathable for plants. Some types of compost materials also help deter pests.
Mix compost into the soil, or even into potted plants (don’t use more than 20% compost in pots because compost on its own, dries out very quickly). You do not have to follow a perfect science for composting. If you know the basics of what materials can be composted safely, your efforts should yield success (NOTE: Under different conditions certain materials may require more time to decompose).