Have you ever wondered how to make your soil in your vegetable garden, your landscape, and your flower bed more productive without spending a lot of money? If you are a gardener or a home owner who wants to have healthier plants, I am sure you have thought about this at least once. One way you can do this without spend a lot of money is by having your own compost pile. Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Compost piles can include grass clippings, wood chips, leaves, manure, kitchen scraps such as vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, nutshells, coffee grounds and more. Do not add meat scraps, bones, dairy products, oils or fats.
Since yard waste and food scraps are a large percentage of our garbage that we send out every day, we are not only reducing the amount of waste that is sent to the landfill, we are also utilizing these valuable products that can be incorporated into the compost pile, basically for free! Compost is very rich in nutrients. Once the compost piles are ready to be used, they add key ingredients to the soil that acts as a soil conditioner and a fertilizer. Over time, the compost helps to improve the soil and the overall productivity of the plants that are utilizing the soil.
Before compost can be used, it has to be composted first. For most homeowners, having an enclosure to compost in is very effective and efficient. Make sure when searching for an enclosure, whether it is a wood crate, drum with side holes in it, or any other enclosure, that it is able to hold about 1 cubic yard of compostables. Find a level surface to place the container and start adding your ingredients in. There is no specific formula that you must follow although non-wood materials such as grass clippings and garden wastes work best. Place the kitchen and/or yard waste into the composting bin. To make the composting more quickly, you can shred or chop the organic materials. Once you have reached a desirable level in the composting bin, you can add already composted material to the top of the “soon-to-be” composted pile or add good dirt to the pile. What this is going to do is allow the microorganisms and soil insects that are already in the dirt or composted material, to start attacking the new pile. As the pile begins to compost, it is highly recommended that you check the moisture level of the pile periodically. If the pile is too soggy, you can add dry straw or sawdust to the pile; if the pile is too dry, you can add water to the pile. The material in the pile should be damp but not so wet that when you hold it and squeeze it, water goes rushing through your hand and fingers. It is recommended that you have two compost piles; once the first pile is large enough, stop adding organic matter and let it work. You can start a second pile if you still have organic material that you would like to use.
As the pile starts the composing process, it will begin to heat rapidly. Within four to five days, the pile will more than likely reach an internal temperature of 90 – 140 degrees F. As the compost pile bakes, stirring the pile with a pitchfork or shovel will encourage a more rapid decomposition of the material which will result in the pile settling down from its original height. If proper management of the pile is done and the pile is turned or stirred, the compost pile should be ready in one to two months; if it is not turned but left to sit, which is perfectly fine, it will be ready within six to twelve months. The compost pile should be dark in color once it is ready and full of nutrients that can now be utilized!
Occasionally running into composting problems can occur. If your compost piles don’t smell earthy but smells rotten and have a sulfurous odor to it, it could be due to the fact that the pile has too many food scraps in it, the pile may be too wet, may have too many grass clippings in a mass, or the pile may not have enough oxygen. You can possibly correct the problem by turning the pile and adding some dry leaves or chipped wood and/or reducing the number of food scraps to the pile. If the pile has an ammonia smell, you may have too many grass clippings in one mass, too much manure, or not enough oxygen. Home owners can turn the pile and break up any clumps which allow oxygen to go through the pile and possibly correct the problem as well. If temperatures are too low, the pile may be finished composting or the pile may be too small, too dry, too wet, or the material is too coarse or fine. If the temperature is too high (above 160 degrees F) this can kill beneficial microbes. Whether the pile’s temperature is too low or too high, examining the pile is a must and turning the pile to see what is needed is recommended.
Composting in compost piles can be very beneficial if done so correctly. With the yard and kitchen scraps that we constantly send out to trash, they can be used to add valuable nutrients in the soil where they can be utilized by many different plants. As more and more people grow vegetables in their backyards and homeowners plant more and more plants, the demand for a cheap soil conditioner and fertilizer is at an all-time high. With yard and table scraps, we all have the access to fulfill that demand.