Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to compost?

Composting is the skill of turning organic waste into a rich soil modification called humus. Making compost is often considered to be difficult but all you need to do is make available the right ingredients and let nature do the rest – however, a little know-how will help you make better compost, more efficiently. Composting is really simple to learn.
Benefits of Composting. Composting is also full of benefits for you and the environment. These are benefits:
Compost develops the structure of soil. Then, sandy soils hold water better, and clay soils drain faster. It diminishes soil erosion and water run-off. Plant roots penetrate compost-rich soil easier and hold the soil in place. Water can run down into lower soil layers, rather than puddle on top of the ground and run off.
Compost supports the soil in holding nutrients, thus lessening the need for chemical fertilizers and preventing the leaching of nitrogen into water. It promotes healthy plants which are less vulnerable to diseases and insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides. Compost also gives food for earthworms, soil insects, and beneficial microorganisms.
Composting in your backyard recycles wastes which might otherwise fill up landfills. Leaves, grass, and debris - often collected into the street - tend to clog storm drains and street gutters and are costly to collect, but make exceptional compost materials. So, why wait?
What to compost? You can compost organic wastes including coffee grounds, grass cuttings and leaves, fruit and vegetable peelings. Some things, like grass mowings and soft young weeds, rot quickly. They work as 'activators', getting the composting started, but on their own will decay to a smelly mess. Older and tougher plant material is slower to rot but gives body to the finished compost - and usually makes up the bulk of a compost heap. Woody items decay very slowly; they are best chopped or shredded first, where appropriate. However, there are some things you should not incorporate in your compost. This includes meat or dairy products and weed seeds, fish, cooked food, coal & coke ash, cat litter, dog faeces, and disposable nappies
Key factors in composting. To make compost efficiently and effectively, we need consider these factors:
The Fifty-Fifty. A perfect mixture of material consists of ½ brown (carbon-based material) and ½ green (nitrogen-based) material by weight. To make good compost you need a more or less equal amount of 'greens' and 'browns' by volume.
The Air. The organisms that live inside your compost bin need air to survive. Proper aeration can be a good condition for them. Mix or turn the heap three to five times per season. You can use a garden hoe, pitchfork, or shovel.
The Water. The organisms need water to survive, but not too much or they will drown. So, moist, not damp. The ideal moisture level of your compost pile should be like that of a wrung out sponge.
The Small. Shred organic waste materials before putting them into the compost bin. This increases the surface area and speeds up decomposition. You can also store your kitchen pieces in your refrigerator to speed up decomposition, as the substances break down at the cell level when frozen.
The Volume. A container or bin should not be too big. It should be between 3’ x 3’ x ’3 and 5’x 5’ x 5’. If it is too small it cannot hold on to sufficient heat. If the bin is too large, the air won’t get into the centre of the pile. It is easier to handle two or three medium containers than one large one.
You can build a compost bin yourself out of recycled materials or buy one at a garden centre. There are a range of bins on the market but they are all just a container for the composting process. A bin is not strictly essential – you can just build a heap and cover it over with some polythene or cardboard. However, bins do look neater and are easier to manage. Locate your bin in in a sunny or semi-shaded position, directly on the soil or turf, and away from water-courses.
Making Compost
Place your compost pile on a well-drained site which would benefit from nutrients running off the pile. Your pile can be built little by little in layers and then turned to mix. Or if you have enough material, it can be blended at one time.
To make sure fine aeration and drainage, put down a 3-inch layer of coarse plant material, such as small twigs or chopped corn stalks, or a wooden pallet. Next, add about 8 to 10 inches of leaves or other dry organic wastes.
Provide nitrogen for compost-promoting microorganisms by adding 2 to 3 inches of fresh grass clippings or fresh manure. If fresh nitrogen sources are out of stock, add about one-third cup synthetic fertilizer (36-0-0) per 25 square feet of surface area.
If no soil is included in your compost material, add a sprinkling of soil or a compost starter to each layer to inoculate the heap with microorganisms. Moisten the pile as you add leaves and other dry material.
Mix the materials thoroughly. Shape the pile so its center is lower than its sides, to help water flow into the pile. Keep the pile moist, but not soaking wet. Within a few days, it should heat up. If not, it may lack nitrogen or moisture. If the pile emits an ammonia smell, it is too wet or too tightly packed; turn the heap and add coarse material to enlarge air space. Once a month, turn the heap, putting the outside materials on the inside and vice versa.
The plant materials should decompose into compost within five months in warm weather, longer under cool or dry conditions. The center of the pile should reach 160F. to kill most weed seed, insects and eggs, and disease organisms. Composting may be completed in one or two months if the materials are shredded, kept moist, and turned some times to give good aeration. Then, spread it in the garden or plow it under to offer your soil and plants renewed vitality.

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