How to make Compost
Produced through the decay of organic matter, compost or humus, is the most efficient and practical fertilizer known to man. It restores valuable nutrients to worn out soil and transforms a barren and unproductive piece of land into a lush garden plot.
Composting is ecological. Long used by organic farmers and gardeners, it provides an alternative to the ever growing number of synthetic fertilizers. When you spread it on your garden, you are returning nutrients that cropping takes away. This is important because the soil has been mismanaged for at least a century and the topsoil has been disappearing at an alarming rate. By composting you are putting home, garden and factory wastes to work instead of discarding them in dumps and rivers.
The art of composting is easy to master. The following article outlines how to make the aerobic variety and how it benefits the soil.
There are four steps to consider when making your own. They are as follows:
1. Where to locate the heaps and how they will be contructed.
2. What ingredients to put in the heaps.
3. How you will go about acquiring these ingredients.
4. Putting it together in such a way as to create humus.
Consider these factors when locating your bins:
1. Accessibility to the source of organic waste material and area where it is to be used.
2. Protection from cold winds (if possible)
3. Shelter to help prevent waterlogging. Under a large tree would be ideal, but this is not always possible and a cover can be utilised to prevent this problem.
Apart from these factors your decision depends greatly on the size and location of your grounds. If you have several acres don’t worry about disguising the heaps, just choose an area that’s easily accessible, and large enough to hold all the compost you will require. If, however, your are a suburban dweller, you’ll have to be extra careful, but with a little imagination you can set up a composting area which will blend into your landscaping plan. Remember, there’s space for composting in just about every yard. Simply work out the best arrangement for yourself and the peace of the neighbourhood.
When constructing the bins, there are several methods that have been employed by gardeners over the years. You can simply pile it up in a heap with a crater in the middle to assist aeration. This heap must be turned regularly, moisture content monitored, and covered with earth or hay to keep it warm. In periods of heavy rain it must also be protected to prevent waterlogging.
Many gardeners use unmortared Besser Blocks for two sides of the heap and a paling fence for the third side. Hay bales make an excellent door on the fourth side. It would be ideal to have three bins, one being filled, one maturing and one being used. Many other materials can also be used to construct bins. They include:
1. Wooden slats
3. Railway sleepers
4. Bales of Hay
5. Combination of any one of these.
Using your imagination and available resources is the key here. Compost should never by made on concrete. A base of grass, soil or simply the last site compost was made on are best. Aeration is a major consideration in your construction. Oxygen will aid the rapid breakdown of the contents of the heap. All compost heaps should have a cover. This is to keep the heat in in Winter and prevent it becoming waterlogged in excessively wet weather. This cover can either be two centimetres of soil, hessian or hessian bags, underfelt or old carpet, all of which can be utilised when necessary. The bins should ideally be able to contain one cubic metre of compost each.
Once design and construction of binds has been implemented we must then consider what to put in the heap and how to go about getting it. The heat generated during the composition process will reach one hundred and fifty degrees F. and this is hot enough to kill weed seeds and more importantly pathogenic disease, fungus and insects on the plants wastes used. Ideally this would leave you free to use any wastes from the house and garden in your compost heap, however there are some weeds you must avoid. Check your local area agricultural dept for noxious weeds in your area.
Some examples are Agropyron repens, Nothoscordum inodorum and Tradescantia albiflora. You must also avoid meat and fish scraps and fats and oils as these attract vermin as well as disinfectants, detergents, large woody plant matter, citrus, and ashes from coal fires. Suitable undecomposed organic matter for the compost heap are as follows.
Succulent plant parts.
Lawn clippings and weeds.
No longer usable old cotton and woollen clothes and blankets.
Old carpet (natural fibre only). This would make an ideal cover for the heap.
Newspapers, soaked and torn.
fluff from the vacuum cleaner
Dead vase or garden flowers.
Tea leaves and vegetable peelings
Bedding straw from stables
Soil or compost from a composting toilet.
Materials high in carbon such as dried leaves, sawdust, pine needles, bark, twiggy growth and shredded woody prunings, can also be successfully composted if additional nitrogen is added to the heap for example blood and bone, urea and sulphate of ammonia. Compost can also be tailored to suit your PH requirements. For example you may wish to use an acidic compost around your Azleas and Camellias, you would use acid peat instead of soil in the heap. If you wish to balance an acid compost you can add eggshells and woodash. rock phosphate can also be added, but never add lime. If your garden needs it, give it seperately, dolomite is a better alternative in the compost heap.
There are an abundance of businesses and farm activities that generate waste organic matter ideally suited to the making of compost. You will find these people are usually more than willing to part with their waste products for nothing and in so doing re-energise your own garden. A little drive and initiative in seeking out ingredients will almost certainly pay off in great dividends to the organic gardener or farmer.
The way in which this undecomposed organic matter then goes together is very important. Layers of about 15cm are the most suitable up to a height of one and a half to two metres. If you are building your heap gradually as materials become available, it would be wise to utilise your cover at this stage, so it doesn’t become too wet or cold. Always mix the layers up. That is, hedge clippings and grass clippings in one layer, then an activator such as fowl manure, commercial compost activator or some already made compost can be added to help break down each layer. Finally a sprinkling of water to moisten any dry material. Yarrow leaves or the soil that it has grown in, a handful of chamomile flowers or a layer of comfrey leaves are also very good compost activators. Your compost heap will rise layer upon layer with no mass layers of any one material.
As micro-organisms are included in the compost heap through ta suitable activator, oxygen and water are the two remaining essential elements for successful breakdown of the heap. Moisture balance is essential. Fifty percent moisture content is ideal. Excess moisture will drive out oxygen and favour anearobic organisms. Too little moisture will inhibit the decomposition of the heap. Failure to settle or the presence of wood-lice means excessive dryness. To avoid disturbing the heap, water it with a gentle spray. The top of the pile should slope toward the centre like a moon crater, so that rainwater and water from a hose will seep down through it. The organic matter should be the consistency of a squeezed out sponge. A straw mulch, or covering of soil will assist in moisture balance.
To aid the aerobes in doing their job, oxygen must be in plentiful supply. Loosely pack the material and never stand on the heap. Turn the pile once a week. A five tyne digging fork is your best turning tool. Rainy weather is the best time to turn because moisture gets right into the inside of the organic material. Poking air holes into the heap will also help aeration, as well as carefully constructed bins. Earthworms are great aerators and can be added after the heat process. The best are red or manure worms. Turning will then not be necessary as the worms will do the work for you. They speed up the decay aerate the heap and mix up the materials. They can also be recycled from heap to heap.
As you can composting is a lengthy process of constructing, gathering, layering, turning and nurturing, but after approx six months depending on the time of the year, you should have created a uniform brown humus, suitable for use on the garden, alive with micro and macro-organisms and nutrients.
Compost is extremely beneficial to the soil, but to understand how much it is important to understand something about the soil itself.
Soil is made of water, air, mineral particles, organic matter and macro and micro-organisms. In nature it takes the forest about one hundred years to deposit enough undecomposed organic matter to form one inch of new top soil. As you can deduce the addition of quality compost to the humus starved soil will generate enough activity to help assist the breakdown and moisture retention of that soil and significantly accelerate natures process, particularly as most soils do not even have a canopy of mulch giving plants at all.
Humus, particularly compost, has significant benefits to the soil. It provided improved drainage in heavy clay soils and improved water holding capacity in sandy soils. Increased soil aeration for root penetration, modification of soil temperature extremes, increased biological activity of beneficial soil organisms such as bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes and earthworms and finally improved nutrient holding capacity. As humus is already broken down it will not give off excess heat that can damage delicate plant roots. One shovel full of compost will do a whole mature fruit tree.
In an era where resources must be managed from the grass roots level, it is something highly recommended to everyone interested in cultivating fertile soil and in turn a fertile garden ecosystem.