You may think that throwing away the carrot peels and apple kernels in the trash has no effect as they will break down anyway. But even natural plant matter will last for years when sealed in a plastic bag and dumped in a landfill.
As a great example of community responsibility, the City of Seattle, WA offers free compost bins to all residents. This keeps over 800 million pounds of trash out of your landfills! Not only can you help divert your own kitchen waste from the landfill, but you can also create a rich nutritious humus for your own garden, be it an acre or an old wine barrel in your yard.
WHY SHOULD I MAKE A PAYMENT?
o More than 21 million tons of food waste is generated each year in the US If composted, the greenhouse gases saved would be the equivalent of taking more than 2 million cars off the road.
o You will add valuable nutrients back to the soil and your garden will be healthier and your vegetables will be more nutritious for you and your family.
o You will save money by not having to buy garden soil and compost materials, and that will save the energy to transport those products to your store and your garden.
WHAT IS THE FERTILIZER?
When organic materials like leaves, plant food scraps, manure, and yard waste are decomposed in a controlled environment (your compost bin), a rich, fertile humus is created that will enhance and fertilize your garden soil. .
Your plants are much healthier because:
or nutrients are added
or drainage improves a lot if the soil has a lot of clay
or if your soil is sandy, compost helps it retain water
If your compost pile is cold, worms and insects will find their way to it and help transform your waste into food for your garden. But it helps to have the right conditions. Provide these cute creatures with enough air, water and food, and they will be the best friends in your garden.
IS THE COMMERCIAL PAYMENT THE SAME AS THE “HOMEMADE”?
Homemade compost is better for microbes and nutrient diversity, but bagged compost provides organic matter and some microbes. Keep in mind that composted manure can be mostly water by weight.
If you have a large garden where the soil needs additional nutrients, you may want to buy cheap bags of composted manure or bulk compost from a local commercial compost, then add your own compost as needed.
If you are purchasing compost, be aware that there are no regulatory labeling requirements for bagged compost. Grade A composted sewage sludge is probably the safest, because it is the only type of compost that requires testing for heavy metals and pathogens before being approved for sale to the public. Feedlot manure is much more dangerous from a pathogen point of view, as no testing is required.
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH SPACE?
Even if you only have a small apartment balcony or back porch, you can compost in a plastic container (about 18 gallons or more). Drill or punch holes one to two inches apart on all sides, bottom, and lid. Place it inside another container a little larger and shallower (the ones under the bed containers work well for this). Place some rocks or bricks between the two so that there is room for air flow. Add your waste and shake the container every other day. If you have room for two, you can add one over several months, then stop adding and start the second. Continue to stir it occasionally until it is brown, crumbly, and with an earthy smell. You can use this compost for small balcony planters, or even your indoor plants, if you don’t have room for a large garden.
WHAT DOES MY COMPOST NEED TO THRIVE?
For high-quality compost, mix materials that are high in nitrogen (such as clover, fresh grass clippings) and those that are high in carbon (such as dry leaves and straw). Moisture comes from rain and fresh kitchen waste, but you may need to add water to keep it moist. Turning or mixing the pile frequently provides oxygen.
Your compost needs to breathe:
Without enough air, your compost pile will break down, but more slowly … and it smells so much more! So make sure you have plenty of room for air in your pile. Straw works very well to prevent hair from tangling. If you don’t have access to the straw, be sure to break up the clumps and try turning it with a shovel or garden fork regularly to fluff it up.
Your compost needs to drink:
You want just enough moisture to lightly coat every particle in your pile, providing the ideal environment for thirsty microbes. It should be as wet as a wrung out towel. More humid than this and it will start to smell bad. Usually kitchen waste will be moist enough, but if you add dry leaves from your garden, you may want to moisten them a bit. If your pile is open to the elements, cover it with a tarp when it rains. Too much humidity can cause the temperature inside the battery to drop and make it smelly. The lack of humidity prevents the pile from heating up and slows down the decomposition process. Check the moisture level in your compost pile weekly and adjust if necessary. Add water to increase humidity or add dry material to help dry it.
Your compost needs to eat:
Your friendly compost critters have two food groups … and it’s always best to mix the two if you can:
o Brown (dry): These materials are high in carbon and include straw, dry leaves, wood chips or ash, peanut shells, pine needles, vegetable stems, and shredded cardboard or newspaper (avoid paper and ink of colors). You may want to moisten them a bit as you add them to your compost pile.
o Greens (wet): These are high in nitrogen and include fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen, green leaves and grass clippings, tea bags, coffee grounds, and even seaweed. Horse manure is excellent, but it is best if it is well aged. Check with a local stable.
Your compost should be kept warm:
If you live in a cold climate, your compost pile will most likely be idle for the winter. You’ll be in good shape as soon as the spring heat starts to warm you up again. Compost doesn’t need to be hot – 50% Fahrenheit is fine.
You may be considering hot mulching (110-160 degrees F), because the heat makes compost fast (in weeks rather than months) and kills most seeds and plant diseases. However, studies have shown that compost produced at high temperatures has less ability to suppress diseases in the soil. High temperatures can kill the beneficial bacteria necessary to suppress disease.
TIPS FOR FERTILIZING
o Balance between fresh and dry: Compost piles with a balance of one part fresh and two parts of dry materials break down faster. Add a mouthful of fresh material to the pile and top it with two mouthfuls of dry material. Then mix them up.
o Size: Compost piles that are at least 3 cubic feet (3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft) heat up faster and break down more quickly.
o Get your compost pile up and running: If you’re just getting started with your compost pile, add a scoop of high-quality garden soil to help reignite microbial activity in your pile.
o Mixing: If possible, mix the compost once a week to move the material from the outside of the pile to the inside. This prevents the pile from compacting. (compaction reduces air flow and slows down decomposition)
o Smells bad ?: Healthy compost smells like dirt; if yours smells bad, it’s too damp. Turn it over more often and add more dry matter to help dry it. When your compost is too wet, it removes the oxygen in your pile, slowing down the decomposition process and stimulating anaerobic microorganisms to thrive … increasing the stench! It can also smell bad if the mixture has too much garden or kitchen waste. Bury it deep within the compost and add more dry matter.
o When finished: Compost should be dark brown, earthy and moist to the touch. Compost at the bottom of the pile usually “finishes” first. You will know that your compost is finished and ready to use when it is no longer hot and when the original ingredients are unrecognizable. This usually takes 6 to 12 months.
o Nothing Happens !: If you notice that nothing is happening, you may need to add more nitrogen, water, or air. Cold composting can take a year or more to decompose depending on the pile materials and conditions.
o Compost pile is too hot – If your compost pile is too hot, it may have too much nitrogen. Add more carbon materials to reduce heating. A bad smell can also indicate too much nitrogen.
o Attracts flies and insects: Adding kitchen waste can attract insects. To avoid this problem, drill a hole in the center of the pile and bury the debris. Don’t forget … don’t add meat scraps or any animal matter, pet manure, diseased plant material, weeds, fats or oils, or dairy products.
o Can I use fresh manure ?: Don’t. This could burn your plants. Make sure the manure (NOT dog or cat feces) is well aged before placing it in your garden.