January 9, 2012 by Soulsby Farm - A Very Small Farm
I would like to thank Formecology’s owner John Gishnock for providing me with this valuable information on Composting and I’d like to give them a plug!
Formecology is born from the idea of combining art and nature – bringing natural elements together with cultural art forms to create landscapes that are appropriate both to the built and natural environment. Formecology is a full service design, build and care firm focusing on environmentally beneficial & regionally inspired landscapes for residential & commercial settings located in Evansville, WI. Please visit their site at: www.formecology.com
What is Compost?
Composting is the biological decomposition of organic material into a humus-like substance called compost. The process occurs naturally, but can be accelerated and improved by controlling environmental factors.
•Compost is good for plant health
•Preserving nutrients from plant or grass clippings, food scraps and leaves onsite is much better than land filling or allowing them to wash into lakes
•Enhancing texture & water holding ability and adds beneficial microorganisms
•Add slow release nutrients
•Composting can destroy weed seeds & pathogens
•Can be used for erosion control/stabilization too
Each year half of the root system dies and is composted in the soil – Nature working itself!
Where should I put a compost site?
•Have a landscape plan !
•Keep it in your garden (you’re more likely to use it if it’s close by)
•Site to avoid views/smells
•Consider screening from neighbor’s
•Proximity to a water source (rain barrel perhaps)
•Proximity to application area (gardens/lawn)
•Keep close to kitchen for kitchen scraps (or store in smaller container to bring out periodically)
•Have some storage space available for extra materials (leaves, straw, etc)
Choose a level area with :
•Access to rainfall
•Good drainage & airflow
•Indirect sunlight (full sun can dry the pile and some sun helps dry a wet pile)
•Shelter from drying winds
What size should a compost pile be?
•The perfect size for a compost pile is one that is at least 3′ x 3′ x 3′. It’s not only a manageable size to turn, but it’s ideal for retaining heat while still allowing air flow.
•Plan for 10 square feet or more
•Smaller compost piles will still decompose material, but they may not heat up as well, and decomposition is likely to take longer
To create good compost you need:
•Ingredients (carbon source, nitrogen source, oxygen, water)
•Microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, rotifers, protozoa
•Macro-organisms (worms, insects, etc) can help aerate, break down materials, etc.. (These both generally come on there own)
•Heat (generated by decomposition)
•A thermometer (20” compost or kitchen thermometer )
•Pitch fork or shovel
Components include proper ratio of:
•Nitrogen-rich items – Green/multi-colored, wet Lawn clippings, veggie scraps, etc
• Brown in color, dry Leaves, straw, etc
•Soil and fertilizer/ inoculants (if desired)
Carbon & Nitrogen Ratio
•Ideal ratio is about 25 -30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen.
•If too much carbon, decomposition will be very slow.
•If too much nitrogen it will smell.
Do not include:
•Fats/oils. (meat, dairy, grease etc)
•Potential pathogens (pet droppings)
•Potential toxins / pesticide residue
•Ashes or other strongly acidic/ basic materials
• Large materials (branches, chunks of sod, etc)
• Plants that have been treated with pesticides and/or herbicides (weeds and lawn clippings) should be avoided.
Layers like lasagna
The Heat is On or The H is O
•Proper heat (135-160 degrees) is important to speed the process and kill weed seeds/ pathogens
•If temperatures get too high the beneficial microorganisms are killed.
•Measure temperature at center of pile using a thermometer (20“ composting thermometer or just a turkey thermometer)
•When the temperature reaches 155°F, turn pile to mix & aerate
•Turn again in a day or two when pile reaches 155°F again
•Plan on turning the pile every day or two when it reaches 155° to keep temperatures in appropriate range
•After the first week to 10 days temperatures will moderate & pile should be turned less than 1x per week.
•After 15-20 weeks the compost will be done.
•The center of the pile will be slightly warm and original ingredients will be indistinguishable.
•Shredding materials provides more surface area and encourages faster decomposition.
•Mixing/Aerating the pile with a pitchfork or using a tumbling system ensures adequate oxygen.
•Adequate moisture is important- you should be able to squeeze a small amt. of moisture out but it shouldn’t be wet.
•Let the microorganisms & macrorganisms do the work
•Worms love coffee grounds!
•Compost piles should remain damp but not too wet. As you build your compost pile, make sure that each layer is moist as it is added. The surface should also remain damp (think of a wrung out sponge), especially during the summer months.
•Soak finished compost in water to “brew” compost “tea,” a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used for foliar feeding or for watering plants in your garden, backyard, or houseplants.
•For faster results, use a compost turner every two weeks to aerate your pile.