Glorious Gardens explains composting.

Compositing is a key element in landscaping. If your soil is poor, you will have little chance of growing healthy plants. Composting can be used to speed up plant decay. This is a great gardening technique because it returns nutrients to the soil and reduces waste. This process was used by farmers at least 4000 years ago, but it has recently been “rediscovered by” city gardeners who are more concerned about the environment.

Composting is a process.

Since the 1930s, soil scientists have studied the process of composting and removed much of the guesswork. Good compost comprises organic materials (plant scraps), microbes and moisture. The microbes that digest plant matter require oxygen and water to survive and thrive. A loose, “aerated compost heap” will benefit the microbes and allow them to do their job efficiently. The microbes will easily break down plant matter if it is damp. The microbes cannot decompose plant matter if it is too dry. Anaerobic bacteria can take over if it is too moist. This makes the heap smelly and less hot for killing plant pests.

How to make good compost

There are two ways to make compost. Which method you prefer will depend on how fast you want it to happen and how hard you are willing to work. Another option is to buy one of the many compost bins available at retail outlets.

The University of California developed the Berkley method. It is labour-intensive. A fine compost can be made in one month.

A British soil scientist, who had studied the traditional farming methods in Indore, devised the Indore method. Although it is easy to use, it can take over a year to make compostable material.

Rotor compost bins can be used according to the Berkley method, while static square or rectangular bins can be used on the Indore method. You can choose according to your space, budget and effort.

Worm bins can be used for kitchen scraps that are difficult to recycle. These bins are great for units and townhouses.

The Berkley composting process

You can make a mound measuring approximately one cubic metre from grass clippings, leaves, and other vegetable matter. Add some soil and possibly some fertilizer. You can add the materials in layers or mix them before mounding. Before adding materials to the heap, make sure they are dry. To keep the heap evenly moist, add water as needed.

Mix the compost and turn it over after three to four days. This process should be repeated every two to three days until you have the right compost. This should take two to four weeks after the heap has been set up.

The Indore method of composting

This compost heap is best if it has a base that measures approximately 2 meters squared and a height of 1.5 metres. To allow for good air circulation, build the heap on a flat surface such as a brush or branches. To keep flies away and stop odours from escaping, build the heap using alternate layers of high and low nitrogen materials. To catch rainwater, leave a depression at the top of your pile.

The best location for composting

To prevent the bin or heap from drying out in the sun, keep it away from roots that could grow into the compost. If the heap is easily accessible from your home, you will be more diligent with kitchen waste. If your compost pile is well-managed, it will not emit unpleasant odours.

How much organic matter can you process?

A compost heap can take any organic matter, but certain combinations work better than others. A mixture of 50% weeds, 20% grass clippings and 20% leaves is good. Low in Nitrogen, straw, paper and sawdust are all good options. You will need to add nitrogen-rich materials like manure or urea.

Turning the compost

A heap can be turned to aid in the process of decay. To kill pathogens, the outer materials should be moved into the heather interior of the heap. The heap should also be fluffed to increase airflow. Your heap will be closer to the Berkley model if you turn it.

Troubleshooting

Three main reasons compost heaps fail are:

1. The material is too moist. This can be seen in the unpleasant odour that anaerobic degradation produces. You can add more dry material to the pile and make it stale.

2. Too dry. Digging into the heap can help you determine if it’s too dry. Sprinkle water on it if it is dry.

3. Too high a ratio of carbon/nitrogen. This is a sign that the carbon/nitrogen ratio is too high. You can also add high-nitrogen materials like lawn clippings and dog droppings or urine to the pile.

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