by Tess Pennington
Composting is by far the best way to condition your soil. Whether you have a small patio garden or a robust vegetable garden in your backyard, your soil needs to be cared for.
When I began gardening, my grandfather pulled me aside and passed on some very wise advice. He said, “You have to grow your soil in order to grow your plants.” Since that time, I have made an effort to save my compostable materials to use in my garden. With composting, you are utilizing aerobic and anaerobic decomposition processes to break down the compostable material and invite beneficial organisms to assist in the process. The end result is a full spectrum soil conditioner that has many benefits.
- Compost contains macro and micronutrients often absent in synthetic fertilizers.
- Compost releases nutrients slowly—over months or years, unlike synthetic fertilizers
- Compost enriched soil retains fertilizers better. Less fertilizer runs off to pollute waterways.
- Compost buffers the soil, neutralizing both acid & alkaline soils, bringing pH levels to the optimum range for nutrient availability to plants.
Brown – Carbon Rich Materials
- Livestock manure (horse, cow, sheep, chicken)
- Lawn clippings and dried leaves, pine needles
- Shredded newspaper
- Wood chips and small twigs
Green – Nitrogen Rich Material
- Crop residue
- Culled vegetables
- Used kitchen scraps – peels, cores, leftover cooked vegetables (as long as there is no salt or butter on them), produce past its prime.
- Grass clippings (free of pesticides)
- Cuttings from plants, dead headed flowers, pulled weeds
- Coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves, tea bags
Those who begin collecting their compostables have a problem with the smell emanating from their kitchen area. Here are some simple solutions to keeping the smells at bay.
- Enclose it. Kitchen scraps that have been enclosed in a container will help keep the smells from wafting into other rooms. Cutting the kitchen scraps into small pieces will help them fit easily into the canister. There are fancy porcelain compost buckets and pails you can buy, but the cheapest compost contain you can use are the ones found in your home: plastic coffee containers, empty protein powder containers, etc. Utilize what you have around you. If you have multiple composting canisters, you can add more to your compost pile at once. Once they are added, use a hose to water the heap; the moisture will help expedite the decomposition process.
- Freeze it. Add your kitchen scraps to a zip-loc bag and freeze it. This will assist in the decomposition process, as well as eliminate the smells from the kitchen. Simply freeze the scraps until you are ready to add it to the compost pile or worm bin. When ready, allow the bag to thaw out before adding. The frozen food may harm the beneficial insects. Another tip is to cut your scraps up into smaller bits to help the decomposition process and beneficial organisms break it down faster.
- Fill an egg carton. Egg cartons are great “brown materials’ for the compost heap. Add vegetables, fruit scraps and egg shells to the carton all at once. Or, you can utilize the freezing method with this method. When you have filled multiple egg cartons filled with scraps, add them to the compost pile, water it down and layer with a healthy addition of leaves or grass clippings.
- Vermiculture. Maybe it’s the tomboy in me, but I love having a worm bin. They break everything down and the happier they are, the more they produce. If you don’t want to collect your kitchen scraps and save them, consider starting a worm bin and adding the kitchen scraps more quickly. An added benefit to keeping worms is the rich worm tea they produce. You can give your garden an added boost from this worm bi-product. Follow these instructions for creating a worm farm.
- No mess composting. There are two ways to utilize the no mess composting: trench composting and sheet composting. Trench composting is simple; all that is required is to dig a twelve inch “trench” or hole near the plants that will use the compost. Add four to six inches of “brown” and “green” composting material and bury it with the reserved soil. Sheet Composting is more of a longer term composting plan, but is very simple. Place organic matter to be composted directly on to the soil as a form of mulch and allow it to decay naturally. One or more layers can be added. Water thoroughly and allow the decomposition process to begin. New plants can be planted in the area in the next season.
When the compost is a rich brown color, it’s time to add it directly to the garden. These six simple solutions will help your compost pile stay healthy and happy; and a happy compost pile makes for a very happy garden. Happy gardening!