Every backyard gardener, plant enthusiast, farmer, community gardener and container gardener can create compost. How successful that compost pile will be, is often dependent on how well one maintains it. Read on to find the composting method, size and system that is most compatible with your particular lifestyle. To begin with, why compost? Compost is decomposed organic matter that enriches depleted soil, adding nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth. When cultivating the soil in preparation for a new set of crops, compost is frequently added as a soil amendment and fertilizer to replenish the soil. Compost is used as mulch as well.
Types of Compost Piles:
The three most common compost pile types are hot and active, cold and passive, and vermicompost. Hot and active piles are great for eliminating plant pathogens and certain weed seeds. A drawback for some is that the pile needs to be turned often. Also the moisture and heat levels need to be tracked in order to have a successful end product. Cold or passive compost piles need less attention. You can virtually leave the pile be, and let the organisms go to work. However, this method takes much longer to create finished compost. Vermicompost, creates no waste, and has a quality final product. Plus, the worms have digested kitchen scraps and other compost ingredients several times over and produce castings, (worm poop). These castings can be collected to make a nutrient-rich compost tea to be used in the garden.
Small, large or windrow compost pile? Beginner composters and some household gardeners tend to choose small compost piles. These piles are easier to manage, and as long as they are at least 3x3x3, can get hot enough to decompose quickly. Small piles are usually turned once a week. Experienced gardeners and community gardens usually have large compost piles. Larger piles aren’t as easy to turn. The ingredients are taken out, mixed and put back in about every six months. Windrows are generally for big gardens and farms. They can be 8-10 feet high by 10-16 feet wide, depending on the windrow’s composition. Compost piles of this nature are most often mechanically turned once a year.
large compost bin
There are several kinds of compost systems that are used to house compost piles: the stackable bin, a tumbler, a 3 bin system, a worm bin, and if you opt to do without containment—an open pile. Stackable bins can be plastic, though many Do-it-Yourselfers have constructed wooden stackable compost bins. These kinds of bins are great in that you can stack or remove pieces based on need. Top a stackable bin with an aerated cover, (one that came with the bin, burlap sack or any other carbonaceous material). Tumblers are horizontal compost bins that make turning a compost pile much easier. Elevated above ground, tumblers prevent rodents and other pests from bothering your compost. Compost takes about 6 months to mature in a tumbler. Although more pricey, tumblers might be your best bet if you are less physically active. Three bin systems are great for larger piles, as you can start a pile and move it to the next bin in a few to 6 months. By the time the compost is moved to the 3rd bin it’s a finished product. Worm bins provide a quicker way to process kitchen scraps. Worms can create quality compost in less than six months. Worm bins are typically covered, with aerated holes on the sides and bottom of the bin. Open piles provide a good amount of aeration. They are however more susceptible to pest problems if the carbon:nitrogen ratio is off, or noncompostable items are rotting or spoiling.
3 compost bin system
Healthy compost piles need nitrogen, carbon, air and water. Compost piles are often created by alternating green and brown material, to make layers. As the pile is built, each layer of brown and green items is sprayed with water. The ratio of carbonaceous (brown/dry), to nitrogenous (green/wet), material is usually about 30:1. Green ingredients for the compost can be vegetable and fruit scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, grass clippings (pesticide free), garden waste, egg shells, manure (chicken, cow, goat, horse; not cat or dog feces as they contain parasites.). The aforementioned green items are considered wet material because they tend to hold more moisture. Brown compost material can be straw, newspaper, brown non-glossy cardboard, wood chips, dry plant material (leaves, stalks, twigs), brown paper, sawdust (not from treated wood or plywood) and hay. Hay can germinate in a compost pile, so generally speaking it’s not the best carbon choice. A few exclusions: do not add meat, bones, or dairy as they decompose very slowly and attract rats and other pests. No grease. Do not add diseased plants. Also be careful what kind of weeds you put in your compost. Even if your compost reaches high temperatures, certain weed seeds like Bermuda grass, poison ivy and poison sumac are not killed off. In a worm bin, only put in vegetable and fruit scraps. Only about a 1/3 of the scraps should be fruit as the worms aren’t partial to acid. Do not put citrus, garlic or onions in the pile. Whenever you add to a compost pile, remember to cover the food scraps with at least 6 inches of carbonaceous material. This will prevent odors and help keep flies, fruit flies and other pests from entering your compost pile. Water needs to be added to the compost pile, but only enough to make it damp like a wrung out sponge. Waterlogged compost piles will suffer from a lack of air. Air flows more freely through the compost pile after it been turned; worms, and other compost decomposers such as sow bugs, help aerate the compost as well.
burlap cover for compost
Do you have a hectic schedule? Maybe a low maintenance cold pile would work best for you. Is lifting a bit of a challenge? A tumbler might be your best bet. Eat only raw foods? Maybe a vermicompost is ideal for you. Give some thought into what type of compost pile, system and size work for you lifestyle. Creating compost for your garden will be more successful if you do!
Companion planting, or interplanting, is usually implemented for three reasons: complementary planting, space conservation and to obtain bigger yields.
Companion planting is growing plants, (in the same bed, container or garden), that benefit or complement each other. Some examples of how plants work well together are: shallow and deep rooted plants; short season crops with long season crops; plants that grow upright and those that stay low to the ground; plants that deter pests, (helping to protect plants that are susceptible to insect damage).
This blog lists flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables that work well together. Compatible plants are in bold, and the incompatible plants are italicized.
pak choi and onions
ASPARAGUS- Basil, carrot, nasturtium, parsley and tomato. Garlic, onion and potato.
BOK CHOY- Beets, celery, onion and potato. Strawberry and tomato.
Visit your garden and use your five senses to assess it.
What do you see? Is your garden colorful? Is your pear tree finally bearing fruit? Are the tomatoes turning red? Take a closer look at the different parts of the plants. Check out the leaves. Are they vibrant, faded or yellow? Do you notice if any leaves have bite marks or holes? Are they curled up, spotted or dying back? Are there any insects flying by or crawling around? Which plants, and what part of plant, are they attracted to? Do you notice any buds forming on the plants or are flowers beginning to bloom?
What do you hear? Perhaps you hear the sound of bees buzzing from flower to flower, birds serenading or cawing? A hummingbird’s wings fluttering at super speed as it drinks nectar? Do you hear a rustling in the brush, as a lizard scatters? The crunch of dead leaves underpaw, as the neighborhood cat discovers a shady patch of grass by your zinnias?
What do you smell? Is that the aroma of jasmine floating by? Did you catch a whiff of well-amended soil? Smell like rain in the air? Get close, smell the basil, cilantro, rosemary and other kitchen herbs in your garden. While you’re at it, smell the geraniums too!
How does the garden feel? How soft are the petals, how sharp are the thorns? How firm are the peaches? Does the soil feel, damp, dry, compact? Does the wind brush against your face? Does the sun warm your cheek?
How does your garden taste? Pick a fresh sun-sweetened strawberry. Munch on a Golden Delicious apple. Bite into a juicy vine-ripened tomato.
Observing your garden not only helps you to assess the health of your garden, but is a way to plan your garden’s future. Try sitting in your garden at different times in the day. You will have a better sense of how much sunlight your plants get, notice the temperature fluctuations and will be able to see insects that might only come out during certain time of the day. Maybe you need to attract more beneficial insects to get rid of the pests attacking your squash leaves. Perhaps you won’t plant eggplant again, as it didn’t get enough sunlight to produce well. The string beans this year were delicious, so perhaps they’re a must do for the next planting season.
In addition to garden observations, try keeping a photo journal to watch your garden’s gradual and constant transformations. Doing both will help remind you of what works and what doesn’t, though the former allows you the time to relax and smell the roses. 🙂