Composting - Why Everyone Should Do It

ALL LIFE depends on plants, and in fact the majority of our food comes from plants.  Plants themselves "eat" by absorbing nutrients they need from the soil.  Those nutrients come from the natural process of decomposition(the breakdown or decay of organic materials).  It's nature's way of recycling the building blocks of life!  Composting is simply managing the natural decomposition process for OUR BENEFIT.The process is EASY, and there's no need to make composting complicated or stressful.

Sol de mon jardin, avec la haie  by Arpent Nourricier/CC BY
Sol de mon jardin, avec la haie by Arpent Nourricier/CC BY
36151 Old Dominion Landfill by Bill McChesney /CC BY
36151 Old Dominion Landfill by Bill McChesney /CC BY

Consider the Benefits of Composting:

•  Composting can dramatically reduce the amount of trash can waste, making a huge impact on our landfills!  Most of our landfills in America are quickly filling up. The mixture within a landfill becomes a toxic soup that must be pumped out, treated, and collected at a large expense.

•  Compost introduces beneficial organisms to the soil. Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use, and ward off plant disease

•  Compost is perfect for improving soil that contains too much sand or clay (sound familiar Texas?). Sandy soils become better at holding water and nutrients with compost, and heavy clay soils on the other hand, become looser allowing for better drainage.

•  Composting can save you money! You can reduce the need to water your plants because compost can be used as mulch (which helps the soil to retain moisture). Plus, composting can produce a better alternative to store-bought chemical fertilizers, and you can even save money on trash bags!

Compost  by Diana House/CC BY
Compost by Diana House/CC BY

 

*Basic Compost Recipe:

Organic Material + Microbes + Air + Water

Organic Material - Everything that is organic contains different concentration levels of carbon molecules and nitrogen molecules.  The secret to a healthy compost pile is to maintain a healthy balance between these two elements.  Add more carbon than nitrogen, because too much nitrogen makes a compacted and smelly mass!

What To Compost:

Carbon Material:

-Dry Leaves, Branches, Stems, Bits of Wood

-Corn Cobs & Stalks (best if chopped up)

-Pine Needles (acidic; use in moderate amounts)

-Egg Shells (best if crushed)

-Straw (Can add in layer to help oxygenate pile)

-Shredded Paper, Newspaper, & Brown Paper Bags (avoid using glossy paper and colored inks)

-Wood Ash (sprinkle lightly; nocoal/charcoal ashes)

Nitrogen Material:

Compost - 8 by szczel/CC BY
Compost - 8 by szczel/CC BY

-Table Scraps (No meat, bones, dairy, fats, or oils)

-Fruit and Vegetable Scraps

-Grass Clippings, Green leaves

-Weeds (only those that have not gone to seed)

-Coffee Grounds (filters can also be included)

-Tea Leaves (loose or in bags)

-Manure (don't use cat/dog feces)

 

Our Compost by Justin Snow/CC BY
Our Compost by Justin Snow/CC BY

• Microbes:  Decomposition of organic material is accomplished with the help of beneficial microbes. They break down the compost material back into a form the plants can absorb.  We should try to create favorable conditions for the beneficial microorganisms to grow and do their work of decomposition.

•  Air: Microbes have a requirement for air, or anaerobic microbes will take over, and they are stinky!  Air can be incorporated into the pile by turning with a pitchfork or shovel every few weeks, or by creating air spaces (add bulky/odd shaped material to the compost mix) .

•  Water:  Microbes also have a requirement of moisture to live.  If there is no water then they dehydrate and die.  The compost should be moist, but not soaked.  A good mixture stays in a clump for a few seconds in your hand before breaking apart.  If you find the compost pile is so dry that it falls apart as soon as you open your hand, then you may want to add a little water, or let rain do the job.  Covering with anything you have, such as wood or plastic sheeting, helps retain moisture.

Creating Your Outdoor Compost Pile:  

Pregnant Compost Bin Worm by kafka4prez /CC BY
Pregnant Compost Bin Worm by kafka4prez /CC BY
Spring Compost 2 by Scott Sherill-Mix/CC BY
Spring Compost 2 by Scott Sherill-Mix/CC BY
Building a new compost bin by John Athade/CC BY
Building a new compost bin by John Athade/CC BY

•  Your compost location can be in the shade or the sun, but the sun will make it dry out faster.  Pick an area that drains well because frequent standing water could contribute to anaerobic (smelly) conditions.  Start your compost pile directly on the groundLay twigs or straw a few inches deep on the bare earth first.  This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.

•  A bin really isn't necessary for the microbes to do their work. However it's easier for us to control and monitor the composting process if we have a container.  Bins can be made of any material that is not toxic to living organisms - brick, wood, wire, or plastic.  A bin doesn't need a lid, but sometimes they are useful if you have a lot of pesky animals or too much heavy rain.

•  One inexpensive method is to build one yourself.  For example you could cut 10 feet of 36 inch high kennel wire, then form into a large cylinder (overlapping the ends), and finish by bending the ends of the wire to hold it together.

•  Or simply drill aeration holes throughout a heavy duty garbage can, and cut out the bottom to allow the bin to sit directly on the ground.

•  If you want to buy a composter instead of building your own, then you may consider buying a rotating compost tumbler, which makes it easy to mix the compost regularly.  There are many resources online to purchase from.

Courtesy of morguefile.com
Courtesy of morguefile.com

Helpful Compost Tips:

Kitchen Bin *above* Garbage by Nicolas Marchildon /CC BY
Kitchen Bin *above* Garbage by Nicolas Marchildon /CC BY
  • Keep a container with a lid and handle under the sink for kitchen waste, or simply use empty ice cream pails or coffee tins. There are also commercially available units with charcoal filters in the lid.

•  Plastic grocery bags work as great liners for kitchen compost bins.

•  Flying insects attracted to your compost? They can be discouraged by simply covering any exposed kitchen waste with a layer of grass clippings or straw. Just keep a small pile of clipping next to your compost pile and use as necessary.  Adding lime or calcium will also discourage flies.

file54c03562a9fd7
file54c03562a9fd7

•  The size of the organic material in our compost pile affects the speed of decomposition (the smaller the pieces, the faster the process). Cut large pieces of compost material (such as watermelon rind) into smaller pieces so that they will break down faster.

•  You can freeze plastic bags of kitchen compost material to add to the compost pile at a later date. The freezing and thawing process actually accelerates the composting process later on.

•  STIR the compost pile occasionally because oxygen is a key ingredient for the process to work.

•  Remember - compost should be used as a soil additive, and not exclusively as the growing medium!

•  You can also add garden soil to your compost. A layer of soil (not shovels full) will help to mask any odors, and micro-organisms in the soil will accelerate the composting process.

rain, sun, and compost  by hardworkinghippy/CC BY
rain, sun, and compost by hardworkinghippy/CC BY

*Would you like help creating your compost bin?  Yes, we are an experienced landscape design company, but we can expertly assist you in all your outdoor projects.  Just give us a call at Living Expression Landscapes!    281-681-8715