Compost…the word might conjure up images of rotting, fly-infested heaps of orange peels and various forms of yard waste, or it could bring to mind a handful of rich, spongy decomposed organic matter that smells like earthy forest floor. The truth is that compost is the missing link in the circle of daily life – taking our waste products and turning it into superfood for the plants we eat.
We all want to think that if we toss our food scraps and grass clippings into a pile with some dirt, in a few months we’ll end up with delicious earthy plant food to add to our gardens. In reality, you could end up waiting a year, or you might just end up with said rotting heaps. Any pile of organic matter will eventually decompose one way or another, but our goal is to speed up that process and create rich compost that’s ready to use within a month or so.
The art of compost, just like gardening, has a rhythm to it, and there are some basic guidelines that help keep your compost pile happily decomposing.
The bacteria that break down your food scraps, yard waste, and chicken manure into good compost like to live in a warm, damp environment with a combination of carbon- and nitrogen-rich materials. Sounds tasty, right? Think of it like this: we like to live in homes that are warm enough, with access to water and the right kinds of food. These decomposers have the same needs, and it’s pretty easy to give them what they want:
o If you have enough room, try to make your compost pile (or bin) at least three feet square to begin with, and build up from there. This will make a pile big enough to keep the decomposers warm and cozy.
o The ideal combination of structure and “food” for these bacteria happens to be a balance of mostly carbon-rich materials with some nitrogen-rich materials, so stay heavy on the carbon-rich materials
– Carbon-rich = brown, dry plant material
– Nitrogen-rich = fresh green plants and manure
– Most food scraps already have a good balance of carbon and nitrogen in them. *Note: these decomposers aren’t big fans of meat and dairy, so keep your compost pile vegan, with the exception of egg shells!*
o If the pile is too dry, the bacteria won’t be active enough, but if it’s too wet, you’ll start growing mold instead. A compost pile should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
o Finally, the easiest decomposition needs air to happen, so make sure to stir your pile thoroughly at least once a week to let it “breathe”!
If your bacteria are happily decomposing, your finished compost should be a crumbly, black-brown, slightly damp soil-like material that smells earthy. It should make you grin from the satisfaction of grabbing a big handful, feeling it between your fingers and taking a big whiff.
You’ll probably get even more satisfaction from mixing it in with regular soil and knowing that your plants are going to get all of the nutrients they need from your kitchen and yard waste!
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