By definition, compost is the humus like material that results from the decomposition of organic matter. When we grow and remove healthy crops in our gardens, we also remove many of the nutrients in the soil. For sustainable agriculture to thrive, even in a small backyard garden, we must replace what we have taken out of the soil. Good compost consists of elements that are essential to productive gardening, such as nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, etc.
The most basic type of composting is simply a pile established near your garden. There are two components required to start your pile. So called, ‘brown” materials laden with Carbon such as fall leaves, dried grass clippings, dead flowers, old corn stalks and even shredded newspaper make up part one. Part two consists of “green” materials loaded with Nitrogen like vegetable kitchen waste (excluding meat), animal manures from chickens, horses, cows, etc. and fresh grass clippings.
Start your pile by laying at least six inches of brown material on the bottom. On top of this add a few inches of the green materials about four feet high and make sure you keep the whole thing moist. The pile should be in a sunny location as the heat will accelerate the decomposition process. The only real work involved in developing a productive pile is that you will have to “turn” it every couple of weeks with a fork in order to aerate it. Don’t be surprised if a little steam escapes as you turn the compost over. This is a good thing which occurs when the raw materials begin to decompose.
If you are diligent about maintaining your pile it will produce the humus like product we are looking for in a few weeks. It will also look neat and be odor free. If you have limited space or are concerned about appearance, you should look into composting bins which are available at most garden centers and do it yourself stores. These keep the materials contained and some actually are mounted on rotating wheels making aeration very easy. Simply rotate the drum full of decomposing material a half a turn every week and what was on the top is now on the bottom.
Get into composting and you will be doing the environment and your garden a lot of good. Locally grown, sustainable and organic – it’s the way to go!