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Compost

Taking organic waste and turning it into rich soil is an opportunity too precious to pass up!

The idea of "making compost" is not a new one. The decomposition taking place in a compost pile is only mimicking natural processes that take place almost anywhere organic matter is left to its own devices.

soil

Compost can be used as fertilizer for your garden or potted plants, and as a growing medium for seedlings in the nursery or on the windowsill.

A successful compost pile is one which sets up the ideal conditions for growing and nourishing the heat-loving microorganisms which do the work of breaking down the organic material inside. These microorganisms require certain conditions in order to do their work efficiently.

top layer
A simple compost pile made from discarded wooden palates in the Lotan eco garden.

There are four basic factors which will guarantee the success of a compost pile:

  • A balanced diet
  • A balance of water and air
  • Protection
  • Defined space

Balanced Diet

scraps
A healthy compost is reflected by a healthy diet. A variety of food scraps are welcomed.

All living things are made up of carbon and nitrogen, the two main ingredients for compost.

The most common source of nitrogen for a home-compost pile can be your kitchen scraps or other green garden waste.

The most common sources of carbon will be dry leaves or dry grass. You can also use shredded newspaper, but don't use magazines.

When you add the food scraps (nitrogen) to the pile, add the dry (carbon) materials on top. It is best to add twice as much carbonaceous material as nitrogenous especially since the carbonaceous materials are often lighter and airier than the nitrogenous.

A Balance of Water and Air

spin
Another kind of compost pile on Lotan that feeds compost the air it needs by spinning the contents in the box.

When getting started it is a good idea to place a layer of thicker carbonaceous material at the bottom of the pile, about 4 inches/10 centimeters. This will help to allow for proper drainage of any excess liquids and help encourage air flow from the ground up into the pile.

Depending on your climate, you may need to water your pile in the same manner that you would water your garden. Water is necessary for proper decomposition but too much water means that your pile won't have enough air, another very important component of the compost pile.

A pile which has too much water will cause anaerobic conditions and will likely have a bad smell.

A dry compost pile will become inactive and decomposition will come to a stop until water is added.

Protection

top layer
Keeping your compost protected from pests is very important to the health of your pile.
Keep in mind, your compost pile is a living thing!

It is so important to always place a layer of dry material on top of any food scraps or other wet material added to the pile to keep flies from laying their eggs in your pile.

Dogs and cats often come to compost piles in search of a snack - another good reason to keep any tempting food scraps out of sight and smell.

Earthworms, on the other hand, are a superb addition to any compost pile. They usually enter the pile from the ground underneath, once the pile has already cooled down.

Defined Space

plasticCompostBin
An old plastic trash can put to good use.
The plastic is non-toxic and will not decompose with compost - a sustainable use of plastic.

A defined space for your pile can take the shape of a box (either purchased or constructed from simple salvaged materials) or it can simply refer to a corner of your garden where the pile is made.  The important things in considering how to contain your pile are insulation - so that precious heat and gasses do not escape, and protection - from dogs, cats, flies, and others wanting to disturb the pile.

Just do it!

Keeping food scraps out of the landfills is an important job which will reward you with rich nutritious soil for your garden and a feeling of having done something good for the earth.

Resources:

  • Book: Easy Composters You Can Build by Nick Noyes
  • Book: The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant
  • Book: I Garden: Urban Style by Reggie Solomon and Michael Holon
  • Video: http://youtu.be/wL4Mp4o17nY (Compost Buddies)

 


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This work by Center for Creative Ecology, Kibbutz Lotan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.kibbutzlotan.com.