It is a soil conditioner, mulch and fertilizer all wrapped into one. Below is a comprehensive guide to make your composting efforts efficient and rewarding.
(And if you find all of this too complicated, you can always buy one of our simple Smart bins – extremely easy composting right off your kitchen dustbin !)
What is composting?
Composting refers to natural recycling of organic wastes such as fruits and vegetable peels, dried leafs, manure, coffee grounds, etc., by micro-organisms into nutrient rich ‘humus’ which improves the quality and texture of the soil. The decomposed organic matter is called ‘compost’.
How does composting work?
During composting, the micro-organisms- majorly fungi and bacteria, present in the soil eat the organic waste and break it down into simplest form via aerobic respiration. They also produce carbon dioxide and heat which accelerates the decomposition process. As the temperature of the compost pile increases, the number of heat-loving microbes also increases.
Temperature can reach up to 40-60 degree Celsius. Compost can start to dry out at this stage so keep an eye on it. After the bacteria and fungi have done their work, earthworms and other compost worms consume what is left, mixing the compost fragments within their guts.
Under ideal conditions these first two stages can be completed in two weeks. Finally, soil organisms excrete crumbly fragments called ‘humus’ which is loaded with inorganic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium- the ingredients for plant food. The whole process can take six months to an year, depending on the outside temperatures of a region.
How to build my own compost?
Depending on your convenience and availability of materials, you may use a plastic bin for the purpose, which most of us have at least one of them in our basement or garage. The making goes like this:
- Compost bin: Get a plastic storage bin. The bigger the storage bin, the better it is.
- Holes: Drill plenty of holes in the bin on all sides, as well as at the bottom and the lid. Space the holes about one to two inches apart for allowing air circulation. If you have made larger holes, then line their interiors with a wire mesh or a hardware cloth to keep the rodents out.
- Position: Place the bin in a convenient position. Consider putting it outside the kitchen door so that you can compost kitchen scraps easily, or near your vegetable garden so that you can toss weeds or trimmings into it.
- Moisture: Cover it with a sheet of polyethylene plastic to prevent rain water from entering into the bin. Excess water in the bin will wet the contents leading to foul smell. Add some dry leaves, shredded newspaper, or sawdust to dry out the contents. In contrast, if the contents are dry, use a spray bottle to moisten the contents or add plenty of moisture-rich items such as fruits and vegetables.
What to put in compost pile?
The composition and quantity of the kitchen waste being added to the compost pile has to be kept in mind. The organisms in the soil need carbon and nitrogen to perform their function. So while adding raw materials to the pile, a correct balance between the nitrogen-rich scraps (called greens) and carbon-rich scraps (called browns) needs to be maintained.
Greens consist of moist materials, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps and manure; while browns are woody materials, such as autumn leaves, wood chips and bits of paper. For optimum results, use approximately three parts of browns to one part of greens.
What not to put in compost pile?
Avoid adding fatty foods such as meat, butter, cheese, fish and poultry to the compost pile because these materials can leave harmful bacteria in the compost, if not heated sufficiently.
Why does my compost have a bad odor?
Bad odor can be due to two reasons:
- Excess of Nitrogen: If there is too much nitrogen in the compost then the tiny composters will not be able to handle it, leading to unpleasant odor of ammonia gas. Reduce the amount of greens in the compost to prevent this.
- Lack of Oxygen: Due to insufficient oxygen supply, aerobic micro-organisms are forced to undergo anaerobic respiration resulting in rotten egg like smell, due to the release of methane and other gases. Turning compost over with a shovel or pitchfork every 10-15 days and adding dry, bulky material can allow oxygen back in and reduce smelliness.
Fruits and vegetable wastes can also sometimes result in foul smell. To prevent this, keep a small pile of grass clippings next to the compost bin and whenever you add new kitchen waste to the pile, cover it with one or two inches of grass clippings.
How do I know if my compost is ready?
You may be tempted to use compost before it is ready. However, if incompletely decomposed material is added to the garden compost, bacteria may compete with plants for nitrogen in the soil, resulting in retarded growth of plants. Be patient and wait till the compost is ready to use.
You can gauge the compost by its texture and composition. Finished compost should have a rich brown crumbly appearance and should not be powdery. Also, there should be no traces of original materials that were put into the compost pile except small pieces of stems.
How to incorporate compost into the soil?
You can add the compost while preparing the soil for spring. Add compost to the soil in vegetable gardens, annual flower beds, and around new perennials as they are planted. You may also use compost as mulch around flower beds, vegetable gardens, or around trees or shrubs in landscape beds.
What are the benefits of composting?
- Recycles kitchen waste: Through composting you can reuse as much as 30 percent of your kitchen, waste which would otherwise have gone into your garbage bin.
- Introduces useful micro-organisms to soil: Composting adds into the soil useful micro-organisms which breaks down the organic matter, aerate the soil and keep plant diseases at bay.
- Natural conditioning of the soil: Compost is considered as a natural soil conditioner because it can improve the quality of almost any kind of soil, particularly sandy and heavy clay soils.
- Replaces artificial fertilizers: Composting provides a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers by creating nutrient rich humus for soil and plants.
- Saves money: Expenditure on soil, chemical fertilizers and local disposal cost can be avoided by using home-made natural compost
That’s about all you need to know to start building your own gold mine. Have fun as you dig black gold!