Compost (noun) – Decayed organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, and vegetables used as a plant fertilizer.
Compost (verb) – Make vegetable matter or manure into compost.
In a nutshell, compost is an earthy material produced by the natural breakdown of organic matter. Composting is the process of mixing those organic materials and creating a nutrient-packed soil through decomposition.
*Don’t confuse compost with mulch. While similar, you need to know the differences. Both are generally organic, but you work organic compost into the soil to improve it nutritionally. With mulch, you spread it along the top of the bulk compost or dirt after planting to serve as a covering to control weeds, promote water conservation, and protect plant roots from acute fluctuations of temperature.
Making your own organic compost could not be easier. If you can toss a banana peel, you can make compost. You can buy and use a man-made tumbler bin, or you can create a small area of available space in your yard for creating organic compost. The first option is contained composting, while the other is open-air composting.
Organic Daily Post has put together this easy to follow tutorial showing you everything you need to know about making a nutrient-packed compost for yourself. This all-natural method will produce a grow medium in which your plants will not only grow but flourish! This way is ecologically friendly and great for your garden, so what could be better?
Composting: Good for the Planet, Good for the Plants
Making your own organic compost is easy. After a small initial investment, it costs you nothing to maintain, and this method keeps you from having to buy expensive bagged compost or other products at the store. There is no damage caused to the environment, and homemade compost is excellent for all your plants. Plus, breaking a little sweat and getting some outdoor activity is good for you, too.
Trucks haul away all that food we toss into the trash every day and then dump it into a landfill. Once there, they move and manage it, which requires gas-powered machinery and manpower. Much of this food burns, further contributing to the polluting of our planet.
By composting, you not only eliminate your contribution to pollution and landfills, but you also harness the magic of nature to create a superior garden medium in which to grow your favorite plants, herbs, flowers, or vegetables. It’s kind of funny because once you start composting, it envelops your attention. It is a satisfying endeavor in an unexpected way.
Organic or Inorganic Compost?
The difference between organic and inorganic compost is pretty simple. Carbon-based materials that were once living organisms such as vegetables, grasses, leaves, and plant matter comprise organic compost. Organic soil is rich in minerals and nutrients. Peat moss is a type of organic soil, as a bag of peat moss contains decomposed moss and other living materials found in peat bogs.
Non-organic soil media naturally contains no organic matter or nutrients. These consist of such products as perlite, vermiculite, and rockwool. If you want it organic, incorporate once-living materials into your composting. For non-organic compost, you can add newspaper and other materials that will decompose over time.
As simple as making compost is, there is a complex system at work. All those organic materials are breaking down to create a soil that is rich in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, all things your plants love. You can use compost to amend or enhance the nutrients in your garden’s soil, as it makes an excellent all-natural fertilizer.
What’s Happening Inside That Compost Pile?
Most of what goes on within a compost pile is undetectable to the naked eye. In an open-air pile a variety of insects, worms, and snails, as well as fungi, take up residence and contribute to its breakdown. Those are easy to spot. What you can’t see, because it is on a microscopic level, is what is going on inside that heap of decaying matter. Hidden from view resides a bustling community of microbes (organisms too small to see) and bacteria that promote decaying of the material aerobically (using oxygen).
However, bacteria are the grunt workers of the compost pile. They promote the quick decomposition of the material by releasing carbon dioxide, which in turn creates the heat necessary for transubstantiation to occur.
Let’s Make Some Compost!
You’re going to need some organic material to begin. The list of what you can use to create your compost is long, varied, and practically endless. There are also some items one should avoid adding to the collective, and I’ll get to those.
First, though, throw your organic materials into a pile.
Below is a shortlist to give you a reference point. Think biodegradable.
Avoid adding bones, meat, grease, and animal by-products, as well as any dairy-based materials. Meat and bones don’t break down well, and meat can also contain anabolic steroids and growth hormones. As for dairy products, if you have to work the pile with a rake or hoe, you don’t want any waves of soured milk breaking in your face during your gardening process.
While nature does the chemistry, there are a few steps required by you to make it all work.
If you already have a designated area for your compost pile, then you’re ready to start. The same principle applies if you have a tumbler or bin, but let’s begin with the open-air pile.
The Open-Air Pile
With open-air composting, you are essentially replicating what takes place naturally on the forest floor. Dried leaves, grasses, nuts, seeds, and twigs begin to decompose, creating a nutrient-packed soil from which new plant life begins to grow. The same forces of decomposition are at work with the organic matter you throw onto your compost pile.
Don’t start out with too large a compost bed site unless you need a bunch of it. Using 3 feet by 3 feet is respectable, considering you have to work it manually. Any larger and it can become a bit labor-intensive. Ultimately, it’s your call. However, keep in mind that smaller piles create compost at a faster rate, resulting in shorter periods between batches.
Just Add Water
Throw your organic materials into a pile. With a garden hose, thoroughly wet the pile. You want it wet, but not soaking wet. It needs to be moist for proper decomposition. After wetting the pile, you’ll want to aerate it by turning it with a pitchfork, rake, or hoe or by using a compost aerator. Stirring up the matter introduces oxygen and heats the pile. Water and air are necessary components for good composting. Brown materials such as leaves and dried grasses produce carbon, while green organic materials produce nitrogen. Both combine to produce heat.
For the best and fastest results for your garden, you will need to keep your compost pile mildly moist. If your pile is in a shaded area you will need to water it less often as the materials are out of the sun, slowing the drying process. When you expose a pile to the sun’s rays, it will naturally dry out faster.
Regardless of your area size, you need to help accelerate the natural process. Turning the pile on occasion helps facilitate the decomposition process by introducing air, water, and heat. By fluffing it up with a rake or hoe, you expose all areas of matter to sunlight and also prevent your pile from sinking into a solid heap, which takes much longer to break down. Be sure to bring the dried edges into the moist center of the pile as you stir it up.
If your compost pile begins to stink you may have too much green material in it. Green material produces nitrogen, and too much can cause an unpleasant odor. This problem is an easy fix as long as you know what to do. Get more brown material, introduce it to your compost pile, and toss it well. In no time, you can eliminate that effluvium emanating from the pile. Once fluffed, the organic material will balance out as heat, sunlight, and air permeates the more exposed surface area.
Always turn or fluff your pile after any additions of material or after wetting it down. This advice is crucial to maintaining a compost pile for your garden.
The Tumbler Method
Personally, I have always used the open-air pile method. However, as of this summer, I recently incorporated the tumbler method of composting, and I have to say, I like it. With a tumbler, you can have remarkably rich soil for all your gardening needs in half the time of a conventional pile and with less toil. It is a comparison of weeks versus months and easy versus more difficult.
The tumbler is an easy and convenient way to produce a bag of excellent compost. Essentially, a tumbler is a closed drum suspended in a frame that you can turn or tumble by cranking the handle. It has a door for introducing new material.
Tumblers are perfect for older folks and people who do not prefer shoveling and digging regularly. Tumblers are easy to use and efficient, and they can produce earth-friendly bagged compost much faster than a traditional open-air pile. You can also buy and introduce a compost accelerator to hasten the process. Garden centers sell different types of these products.
With a tumbler, the same methods of making compost apply. Add and wet your materials, then with the handy handle, give them a spin. You can tumble your compost anytime without the need of rakes, pitchforks, or hoes, which virtually eliminates bending, raking, and complaining.
In addition to the compost itself, making your own holds many advantages:
They’re not making any more dirt, but you can easily bag your own organic soil if you know how to do it. Through composting, you can create a nutrient-rich bed for all your plants, both indoor and out, including fruits, vegetables, and limitless flowers. Having a hand in making the world a cleaner and better place doesn’t hurt either. Plus, it’s dirt cheap to do, whereas buying compost by the bag can be expensive.
A world of additional gardening information is available online about tumblers, bins, open piles, and other composting products, along with the tools available to make home composting fun and easy!
Composting, finally, a breakdown that feels good!