How To Properly Compost
August 8th by Anthony D'Atri

Composting BinsEvery garden must have a compost heap. This is the ideal way to return as much organic matter as possible to the soil, following nature's example. Decomposing vegetation provides a home for millions of soil organisms. Proper composting opens up the soil, improves drainage, eases the way for root growth, and it helps over-drained soils retain water and therefore nutrients.

Forget the big brown bags and stinky trash cans full of last night's salad remains, because if you have a compost unit, you can salvage all that good organic matter to re-use in the garden. Waste leaves, vegetables, grass cuttings, hay and annual flowers at the end of the season can mingle alike in the compost. However if you were to dig and put them in the soil immediately it would surely do more bad than good for you.

This is because the rotting process is carried out by millions and millions of bacteria which feed on them, and in order for the decomposing process to occur, these bacteria need nitrogen (a very important plant nutrient). If the garden waste is "dug-in" in an "un-rotted" state, the bacteria will draw the nitrogen from the soil for their own use, shorting your growing plants of very valuable food. If the plant material is turned into compost before it reaches the soil, it will actually add nitrogen. This is because after the initial rotting, a species of bacteria known as Azotobacter is attracted by the resulting conditions. These useful micro-organisms can fix the nitrogen from the air, meaning, they take it and convert it into a form that can be used by plants. Therefore, good compost, not usually high in nitrogen, will at least not take any nitrogen from the soil.

The Rotting Process

The rotting process takes time, and a successful, well planned organic garden should therefore have at least 2 compost heaps. That way, the contents of one heap can be left to rot down properly while the other is being filled up. There are several key ingredients to a successful compost stew.

Air circulation to create the right environment for the good bacteria we are looking for because if the compost is packed to a solid, lacking air circulation, it will invite the wrong bacteria which is turn will do more harm than good for you.

Nitrogen is the next key ingredient in composting. It acts as fuel or better yet an activator for the breakdown of all the matter, you can purchase this organic substance at any garden centre.

Lime keeps the compost sweet and neutralizes the acidity of your slop. If you have chalky soil you make want to omit the lime and just use very acidic organic matter to create a better remedy for your soil. However, the bacteria involved in the breaking down process thrive in a not too acidic environment so if you do not add lime, expect the process to take a little longer.

Water is the next key ingredient, generally there is plenty of water in the veggies and grass you put in there but on a hot summer day the edges of the compost can become dry, slowing the process. Additionally, organic matter such as straw makes for great aerating material, especially when used with grass but does need to be wet first before being added.

Some notable mentions would include heat and bacteria. What I mean by this is, with enough heat, you can have compost ready in 2-3 months, in the winter months the process comes to nearly a screeching halt. It is best to cover the top of your mini compost mountain with a piece of carpet for the winter in order to keep it from getting too wet. Don't fret too much on the bacteria front, they're the easiest part, just follow the steps and advice I've laid out and you'll be well on your way to healthier plants, robust crops and a more sustainable future.

Take Care.