Benefits to Composting

               There are multiple advantages to start your own compost, having said that I will be the first to admit that I am not very good at keeping up with it. Since we are renting and move somewhat frequently it has been hard to keep at it. It just seems like something interrupts my plans, sometimes we move before my compost is ready for use, other times, my plants die before I even get to use my compost and the process has just left me a little discouraged, I’m not going to lie. Regardless, I remind myself to keep trying because it is overall better for the environment. Composting significantly reduces the amount of yard waste and diverts it back to the soil instead of it taking up space in a landfill. It also helps improve the quality of soil, e.g. it allows clay like soil to have room to breath and it helps retain water in soil that is sandy.

Materials you CAN use

                A general rule of thumb is to use plant material, not meat-eating animal materials. It is suggested that compost be layered; each layer being about 6-8 inches and those layers should consist of 1:1 part green to brown material or 2:1. Soil can be used but be careful with how much you put in your compost because it makes it heavy & bulky. Also don’t forget to water it periodically just enough to keep the compost pile moist.

Manure is becoming less recommended for fruit & vegetable gardens, although it is still good to use it for ornamental garden beds. If manure must be used it is preferred to be of rabbits, goats, cows or other animals that eat only plant material. I found a lot of great tips and information not only about composting but other gardening topics on PlantTalk, I highly recommend scrolling around if you have time or questions, I have posted the link below as well.

Table 1. Green and brown materials used for composting

Green (Wet) Material Brown (Dry) Material
Clippings and leafy prunings

Vegetable tops  

If no green material available
use small amounts of blood meal or nitrogen fertilizer
without weed killing
ingredients  

You can also use ½ c of
ammonia sulfate per bushel of material
Spent plants, vines

Chunks of sawdust (not
finely grated sawdust)

Fall leaves

Wood chips

Non-glossy print (no more
than 10% of total compost
weight)

Materials you should AVOID

                I have briefly summarized items that should be avoided in your compost heap, but I have listed them a bit more thorough below. No:

  • Bones                   * eggs                                   * weeds with seeds
  • Meats                   * cooking oils                     * no wood ash or lime in Colorado regions
  •  Dairy                     * diseased plants

I have also copied a table from a fact sheet released by the Colorado State University that I found super helpful and I’m sure it will come in handy for others as well. The table below called A troubleshooting guide for effective composting gives a few commons issues with compost and how to resolve them.

Table 2: A troubleshooting guide for effective composting.

Symptom Cause Solution
Bad odor Lack of aeration Turn & stir soil
Center mass is
dry
Lack of water Moisten while
stirring soil
Outer inches are dry Dry air Water regularly
and cover with a
plastic sheet/tarp
Center is damp & warm Too little plant
mass
Mix in more plant material
Outside is cool/
dry.
Plant wastes are damp/smell
sweet, but mass will not heat up.
Lack of nitrogen Mix in nitrogen
source: fresh
grass, granular
fertilizer, blood
meal

Storing Compost

                Composting is a messy business so the next question one might have is where it should be stored. There are multiple options, and each should be considered for its advantages and disadvantages. It also should be considered where one lives, in the city or further out. Regardless of which container you choose, the rules for maintaining the compost are the same: keep it moist, keep it well oxygenated, and keep it the right temperature. Special note, as I was reading an article in Mother Earth News about compost bins, a reader mentioned she was able to get a compost bin at a discounted price

                Outdoor Storage

                There are several options for keeping compost outside there are different types and sizes of bins or you can simply build one from wood or wire. I have noticed on common strategy in my limited research for composting and that is to have a 3 bin system, no matter the type of storage you choose. The point to this is to move fresh compost material down through each bin as it matures and decomposes more, the 3rd and final bin is where you would be getting the final product of compost to use in your garden.

These outdoor options obviously can hold the most amount of compost and will take anywhere between a 1-4 months to have a final usable product, depending on how involved you are with the composting process. Personally, this year I am interested in purchasing a tumbler bin because I feel it will be easier to use without straining my back too much. Quick tip that makes sense to me but I feel I should mention is, make your pile near the area you intend to use it but also careful of having it in direct heat all day during summers or in the shade all the time.

                Indoor Storage

                I found multiple compost bins online that are of small size that easily fit in the kitchen area. Just keep in mind sometimes it can get stinky and if you have pets, they may get curious and make a mess. Again, location is key whether the compost is in or outside the house. Personally, my furry children are too smart and too curious for me to even consider this option, my cat knows how to open doors and my dog is big enough to reach so called tough areas. The reviews I have read do make it seem like a very viable option if you like the ease of accessibility or just the convenience of having a small pile of compost to maintain.

It is possible to have compost within just a few weeks with this smaller compost containers but apparently some can get pricey about $400. I’m not in such a rush but again it all depends on how you intend to use your compost that should guide the type of compost storage you choose.

Uses for compost

                I wish to start this section by clarifying something that I had a misconception about, apparently compost is a soil amendment not a fertilizer. What this means is basically what I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, which is compost improves the quality of soil, balances pH, and provide nutrients. It can also be used as mulch by applying 3-4 inches of it, however it may encourage weeds to grow as well.

Sources:

Mattern, V. (2019) The dirt on composters. Mother Earth News, 1, 51-53

Plant Talk Colorado. 1615: Composting: What can be composted. Retrieved from http://planttalk.colostate.edu/topics/soils-amendments-composting/1615-composting-can-composted/

Wilson, C.R.,Feucht, J.R. (2014). Composting Yard Waste. Fact Sheet No. 7.212

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