COMPOST is the recycling of natural, organic materials that decompose to provide nutrients that will go back to the living plants in your garden in the form of soil. What comes from the garden goes back to the garden. But how does compost work?
The most important thing to remember about both methods is to provide layers of both wet and dry ingredients. Start with a bottom layer of twigs or old sunflower stems to allow air to flow from beneath. Add chopped leaves, grass clippings, and spent garden plants along with your kitchen scraps. Cover the compost, to keep the neighborhood dogs from visiting too frequently and to prevent too much moisture from building up.
THE COMPOST BIN
The second most important thing to remember is to start with the right compost bin. Mine is from Steve’s Earth Engines, shipped from Minnesota to Vermont. Yup, I could have built my own, but I loved this design and it really works. Made out of cedar so it does not rot, it is attractive, so I don’t mind having it on display in my landscape, and best of all, it is a two bin system and when I follow my own advice ( see below) it turns food scraps into compost in just a few weeks. Trust me, a good bin makes all the difference.
LAYERING: The Lasagna Method
All organic material contains carbon, nitrogen in varying proportions. To create the ideal conditions for composting, layer or mix materials in your compost pile so that you have roughly equal amounts of nitrogen (green) and high carbon (brown). A pile with more brown will still turn into compost, but it will take longer. If you add too many greens, your pile may have odor.
High Nitrogen Greens: Grass Clippings, Plant Cutting, Fruit and Vegetable scraps
High Carbon Browns: Fallen Leaves, twigs, Wood chips, sawdust, napkins.
Plus: Air & Water: Two essential elements. Turn the pile, and keep it moist but not drenched.
Two Methods: Hot and Cold.
The Hot Method:
This method is primarily for food scraps, contained in a bin and layered with equal portions of high-nitrogen greens (grass clippings, plant cuttings, fruit and vegetable scraps) and browns (fallen leaves, twigs, wood chips, and shredded paper). When the right proportions are maintained, the food scraps magically heat up. Maintaining a high temperature is critical for rapid composting because it creates bacteria, ( the good kind) that will break apart food scraps when the bacteria heat up to 120°F to 160°F. This will only happen when you can give the pile air, which is why the open sides compost bins work the best and weekly turning. This can’t be done in winter, but as soon as you can start turning the pile, give it fresh air, and compost will be ready to add to your garden in approximately one to three months. Invest in a compost thermometer to check the temperature, because this is the only way you will also destroy any weed seeds that might have flown into the pile.
The Cold Method:
This method requires less science, but it can take up to three years for everything to fully decompose. This is typically a loose, open pile containing spent garden plants and weeds, old potted plants and small twigs, layered with leaves, grass clippings, chicken manure, and wood ashes. The advantage of the cold method is the mere quantity of finished compost that will be available for your garden. It’s best not to turn this pile more than several times a year, in order to allow the decomposition to act slowly.
Once your compost is ready, its time to spread on the garden. A little goes a long way, especially if your gardens already contain healthy garden soil. Place a screen over a wheelbarrow and sift the compost through to collect large roots or other plant materials that have not decomposed. (Put these at the bottom of the pile to start again.) Spread a thin layer evenly over all the gardens and gently turn under the soil with a garden hoe or fork.