Our soil is the foundation for growing our crops, flowers and vegetables. Maintaining the soil is the responsibility of every farmer and gardener. In recent years farmers have become much better at returning organic matter to the soil. Gardeners also need to work at returning organic matter to their gardens.
Composting is a simple way to recycle organic material. Anyone with a flower garden or a vegetable garden can easily and inexpensively enhance the soil quality through the use of compost. The more material that we use in composts, the less we need to send to landfills.
Making compost is not a complicated process. It can be as simple as making a pile of organic materials in the corner of your garden, or as technical as building boxes to contain the materials in various stages of decomposition. Compost piles will not have strong odors if managed properly.
One can easily make compost in what is called a “cold” pile. To start the pile, use energy materials such as dairy, chicken, rabbit or horse manure, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, and garden trimmings. You will also need to add bulking agents such as wood chips, hay, straw or chopped corn stalks. Ideally, pieces of material decay faster if they are chopped into smaller pieces. (from Sustaining Horticulture for Wyoming, Master Gardener, Page 325)
After you have started a pile, ideally about one cubic yard of material, there are two other important ingredients: moisture and aeration. If the pile is too dry, the decay processes and microorganisms will not work. The contents of the pile need to be moist like a sponge but not dripping wet. Aeration or stirring, mixing, turning, whatever you chose to call it, mixes air/oxygen into the pile, thus speeding the decay process. This can be done once a week.
New materials can be added to the pile; however, they should be dug into the center of the pile and covered if possible, to avoid rodent and animal issues in the pile. Depending on the size of gardens and availability of composting materials, one may want to start a second or third compost pile in order to maintain different stages of decomposition.
A “hot” compost pile is similar to the cold pile but requires more attention. The advantage to creating a hot pile is the killing of weed seeds and the speed of the process. A hot pile will create good compost in a few months whereas a cold pile may take a year or more. You know your compost pile is working when it shrinks in size. It is not unusual for a pile to lose half its original volume.
The best part about compost is the benefit it provides a garden. Mix compost with soil to add organic matter or use it as mulch. Well decomposed composts are good soil amendments. They make soil easier to work and create a better medium for plant growth. Mixing one to two inches of compost into the soil of a vegetable or flower garden can be extremely beneficial. One can also mulch between rows with compost which helps control weeds and conserve water.
In conclusion, composting is the ultimate in recycling. It is important that we give back to the earth which sustains us and gives us beauty. Recycle your vegetable matter, improve your soil, and reap the benefits!
For more detailed information, feel free to contact your local Master Gardener.