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!