Compost. Compost. Compost.
This is a subject I have talked about, a lot, but what amazes me is how I continue to learn new incredible information about the capabilities of compost. But before you reap the benefits of composting you have to do just a little bit of proper building.
There are five essential elements you need when building your compost pile.
- Nitrogen: green ingredients (still alive) such as fruit and vegetable scraps and fresh cut grass.
- Carbon: brown ingredients (dead and dried out) such as straw, newspaper, and dead grass.
- Air: microorganism in the soil are aerobic and therefore need air throughout the pile to survive and decompose the pile into rich compost. If your compost pile smells rancid not enough air is moving through the pile and/or there is too much nitrogen in the pile.
- Water: microbial life needs water, not too much, just enough so that your pile is as wet as a well rung out sponge.
- Finished compost/soil: Adding these to your pile jumpstarts the microbial action and increases the rate at which the pile breaks down into a usable product.
NOTE: create a separate pile for leaves, they tend to compact and block air, creating an anaerobic pile.
Avoid putting these in your compost:
- diseased plants
- pine needles
- cat and dog manure
Building your compost pile:
- Decide on a location: preferably in the shade of deciduous tree, this helps the pile stay cool in the summers and thaw in the spring, also near a hose in case your pile dries out, and finally in close proximity to your kitchen; no one wants to walk a mile to get to their compost.
- Lay some branches down directly on the ground, this allows air flow under the pile. The pile will be approximately 4’x4′.
- On top of the branches layer 1″ of nitrogen (green), then 3″ of carbon (brown), then 1″ of finished compost. Continue this layering until the pile is 4′ high.
Now of course there are ways to increase the speed at which your pile decomposes, but my approach to composting is to let the pile do its thing. Build it and walk away. Come back if it smells bad, because that means you did something wrong. As compost starts to decompose it should smell rich, sweet and earthy. After a year or so the pile should be usable in your garden.
Now a few amazing facts about compost. A healthy garden starts with healthy soil. And healthy soil can help us avoid the dreaded pests, diseases, and other maladies that occur when gardening. Adding compost every year helps build the health of the soil thereby decreasing the risks of the aforementioned dreaded nuances.
Composting vs. synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides is similar to comparing eastern vs. western medicine. In our culture we poison our bodies, lead degrading lifestyles, and accumulate disease. Western medicine then comes in to treat the disease. Instead of taking preventative measures in our lifestyle choices, we choose to treat the resulting illness. On the other hand, eastern medicine tends to look at the source of disease, and make changes in the lifestyles we lead, which in effect decreases the chances of developing a disease. All of the synthetic chemicals applied in conventional agriculture treat an onset problem that was developed because the “lifestyle” of the plant was unhealthy to begin with. Synthetic fertilizers are added because the soil has been stripped of its nutrients and pesticides and insecticides are added because the plant is not being grown in rich and robust soil, and probably not in a diverse environment that would defer the pests. Compost on the other hand helps build up the nutrition in the soil, increasing microbial populations and therefore increasing beneficial insect and animal populations. The increased life in the soil enhances the nutrition and soil structure and allows the plants growing in that environment to draw in more nutrition. The healthier the soil, the healthier the plant and the more capable that particular plant is at deterring or withstanding disease, pests and other problems.
Of course you can never avoid every issue; we know this much about life for sure. But we can easily make compost piles. And these compost piles serve a lot of good. They decrease the trash we put into the landfill; and therefore methane into the atmosphere, they are not labor intensive to build, and give back in a big way to the nutrition of our soil; which of course translates into our health. Even if you do not use your compost you can still make a pile! It will decompose and not grow out of control.