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Organic Compost 101

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Q) What Exactly Is “Compost”?

Organic Compost 101A) Compost is organic matter that has gone through a decomposition process. The organic material can be plant material or animal matter. Composting may seem complicated but it’s actually just a natural process that continuously occurs in nature without any assistance from mankind. It is the natural top soil in the woods. Both living plants and annual plants that die or drop plant matter are consumed by animals, large mammals, birds, rodents, worms, insects, and microscopic organisms.  The results of this natural cycle is compost, the remains are left on the forest floor to create rich, soft, earthy smelling soil.  Mmmmm!

Q) Where Does The Compost I Buy Come From?

A) Commercial composters work with waste haulers and organic waste generators to provide an alternative to landfills, leading to a reduction in the generator’s waste management costs. The material is diverted to a composting facility where it can be recycled into soil amendments and other value-added products.

Q) Can I Make Compost At Home?

A) Absolutely!  DIY Home composting helps to keep the organic material out of landfills and in turn makes a wonderful product for your garden. Composting at home is even greener and reduces the transportation. But don’t worry if you decide you don’t have the time or the room to do it yourself; most states have mandated waste management facilities to divert the greater portion of organic matter from the landfill to a composting facility. This has lead to an increase in the availability of mass-produced compost.  You can do your part by buying this lush beautiful soil amendment!

Q) What Makes Compost Good for Plants?

A) Compost is great for the environment and great for the garden.  Compost improves the soil by providing all of the essential nutrients plants need to thrive.  It releases the nutrients slowly over time giving the plants a slow, steady consistent source of the elements plants need.  Compost also improves soil porosity, structure, moisture capacity and air ratio.  Compost will improve the texture of any soil from sand to clay. Field testing has shown that compost improves plant vigor, overall health and the plant’s immune system.

Q) Where Can I Buy Compost?

A) Compost is available in most retail garden centers and is typically sold in 1 to 2 cubic foot bags.  Keep in mind the name “compost” is used generically and does not constitute its quality.  The mandates that forced the hands of garbage waste companies to compost organic matter has created some compost facilities that simply just do it because they have to. These companies are focused on the reduction of garbage and not quality compost. So look at the compost before you purchase it and ask yourself… Is it rich in color? Does it have a soft earthy smell? Is it free from garbage and large chunks of un-composted material?  If the answer is yes to all of these questions you are most likely working with a decent material. For more detailed information on the compost you purchased call the manufacture and ask for a soil analysis. If they are not happy to provide it find a company who is!

Q) How do I Make My Own Quality Compost?

There are two basic kinds of compost piles: open bins and enclosed containers.

Typically composting at home is done in a pile, an open bin, or an enclosed container. A pile or open bin usually has little to no starting costs and it’s very easy to add your feeding materials.  Also, it will collect rain water easily.  Some considerations if you are planning a pile or open bin compost pile: it will attract wildlife, it can be an eye sore, it can get overly drenched during the rainy season and it can smell really bad! Also keep in mind you have turn the pile once in a while.

Container composting can either be done in an upright box or a rotating drum. These options are great at keeping out pests and are a bit easier on the eyes for you and your neighbors. Pay attention to the moisture content and be sure to turn your container as needed.

Compost Basics

Temperature: Letting the compost pile core heat to 160°F (71°C) will be beneficial for the decomposition of the material and will also kill off pathogenic organisms.  It will heat up naturally during the decomposition process.

Air and Water: Keeping your pile moist is simple.  However, keeping it oxygenated is more work. As the pile heats, the microbiology goes to work and, as the pile settles, the air flow is cut off and the pile becomes anaerobic. This is where we get our shovels out and turn the pile, flip our containers, or roll our barrels thus fluffing the pile and allowing the airflow to return.

Feeding your compost:

There are two basic categories of food source for a compost pile.  Although one or any combination of these materials will compost a good mix of them will compost more efficiently.  A good rule of thumb is about one part green and three parts brown; too much green creates smell and off-gasses some of your nutrients.  Too much brown will slow the process.

Typical green materials for compost are:

  • Fresh (green) grass clippings
  • Fresh manure (horse, chicken, rabbit, cow)

Kitchen scraps (fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags.  Avoid meats and fish.)

  • Weeds
  • Green leaves
  • Leftover fruits from the garden

Typical brown materials for compost include:

  • Brown, dry leaves
  • Dried grass
  • Cornstalks (shredded)
  • Straw
  • Sawdust

In conclusion, composting is great for the environment and fantastic for your garden. There are a lot of resources on composting but the best way to learn is to go for it and get your hands dirty!

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