It’s a perfect time to begin making compost, given the fact that fall leaves are soon to fall, along with general trimming around the landscape. All of that material is great for a compost pile, so don’t put it in a “green waste” bin and let somebody else take it; it’s “black gold” for the garden.
Compost is organic matter that has decomposed to a stage that is readily useable in the garden to amend the soil and thereby feed plants. There is a fairly specific “ratio” of components that needs to be added in order to facilitate the breakdown of the materials put in.
Put in simpler terms, it’s important to have about a 2-1 ratio of carbon based plant matter – twigs, dead leaves, woody prunings, sawdust, woodchips, etc. – to green matter – grass clippings and kitchen scraps such as vegetable and fruit rinds, coffee grounds, and egg shells.
Moisture is very important when making compost. The pile should not be wet, nor soggy, but damp, kind of like a wrung-out sponge. One gets a feel for this after making it awhile, it’s not difficult to gauge. If the piles are out in the open, cover them with tarps to help keep them moist after watering them.
Once the ingredients are in hand, there are several choices to make. I recommend layering, almost like making lasagna, your ingredients to start. If one just piles it all up together, mixes it well, and keep it slightly moist, it will compost. It may take several months, but it will happen.
To speed this process up, turn the compost fairly regularly –the aeration helps speed up the decomposition or breaking down of the ingredients that have been added.
There is the tried and true, but a little laborious, Three Bin System. One obtains three bins and starts the compost in the first bin. After about a week, move the contents of the first bin into the second bin, and then refill the first bin with new materials.
A week later, repeat the process – the second bin now gets moved over to the third bin – hopefully it’s useable now or will be soon – and the first bin gets moved into the second again, and it’s time to re-fill the first with fresh material again.
After the first application of compost into the garden, an amazing difference will likely be seen. It takes awhile, this isn’t a “fertilizer fix” like the chemicals give, but its far better, and as a bonus it is common to see lots more earthworms – a real bonus in the garden as they aerate the soil and leave behind a little something that the plants love as well.
Making compost is similar to making yogurt, or even sourdough bread. In understanding the concept behind how those are made, a “starter” is preferred. It’s not essential, but it definitely speeds the process up. So, after creating a first batch of compost, save some and mix it in with the new stuff. It has the microbes in it that speed everything up and gives you the dark, sweet-smelling compost a garden needs.
The “Cadillac” of composters is the large tumbler that has doors to add ingredients through. It has paddles or mixers inside and a handle on the outside that allows a person to turn the entire drum regularly. Compost gets done very quickly this way, although it’s not as easy to keep adding to it as is possible with the bin system, or with piles.
Almost forgot, what happens when the right ratio of ingredients is together – the moisture is correct and it is being aerated occasionally by turning it – it heats up! That heat is what kills pathogens and any bad stuff in the compost; it is what makes it go from a bunch of table scraps, dirt, and twigs into “black gold” for the garden.
This is the best type of recycling a gardener can do – using waste instead of adding it to the landfill. This is a great, educational science/nature lesson for children.