There are numerous benefits to composting organic material and it’s a great tool for improving your garden. Compost is like a sponge in the sense that it stores water and moisture in the soil until plants are ready to use it. It also fertilizes and feeds your soil with nutrients that help improve plant growth.
WHAT IS COMPOST?
Compost is the product that results from organic matter decomposition. This organic material is a wonderful fertilizer and enriches the soil. “Microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes account for most of the decomposition activity in a compost pile,” explains Dave Wilson, research agronomist at Rodale Institute.
Decomposition is also cultivated by airflow, heat, and the combination of carbon and nitrogen elements. Even though Colorado Springs has a cooler climate, the microorganisms in the compost pile can actually self-generate heat if layered correctly. If you see your pile steaming, don’t worry! It means that your compost pile is alive and well.
What can I put into my compost?
Anything that has grown from the earth can be put into your compost, but not everything will be beneficial for your compost. For example, perennial weeds and diseased plants should not be added because they can actually spread with the compost when you use it on your soil next year – yikes!
Food items are a great addition to your compost but be careful not to put anything super processed or covered in pesticides in the pile. Unfortunately, most banana, peach and orange peels have a heavy dose of pesticides that could ruin your compost. Most likely, your organic produce won’t have as many issues with pesticides. Coffee grounds and eggshells are great materials to use due to the fact they are nitrogen-rich.
Never put any type of meat, fish, or bones into the compost, because it will exude a pungent odor as the decomposition process begins and can attract critters. Some things will break down faster than others, but for the most part, anything plant-based will eventually decompose.
How should I layer my compost?
When you’re building your compost, be sure to keep the bottom open so that your first layer of your bin is the natural ground. Because of this, you want to make sure your compost is in an area that you don’t mind having a permanent pile or bin. Start your compost with the dead leaves you rake up this fall, and then add the rest to the top as you go.
The ideal compost mix has layers of brown and green, or carbon and nitrogen ingredients. Carbon ingredients, also referred to as brown ingredients, are things such as leaves, straw, carboard, wood chippings, etc. Nitrogen ingredients, or green ingredients, are most plants (freshly picked or mowed grass that has not been sprayed with pesticides or chemical fertilizer) or manure. Most likely you will be adding large amounts of grass and leaves in at a time, so make sure you use a rake and mix it well with your other materials so that they can aerate properly.
An active compost pile has a carbon (brown) to nitrogen (green) ratio of 30:1, and it’s important to keep that balance. Too much carbon can slow the decomposition and too much nitrogen will put off a strong odor.
What kind of maintenance does my compost need?
In cooler climates, it is best to not disturb the pile in order to retain heat in the center leaving straw and other coarse materials throughout the pile will keep the material aerated without the need to turn it. As you add new material in the cooler months, keep the pile damp, but not soggy, because it’s essential to the decomposition.
Protect and cover the compost in order to retain moisture and heat. There needs to be some airflow, but you don’t want the compost to be completely exposed because it can dry out. If you built your own compost bin, make sure the spaces between the slats are not too large.
If you want to ensure your compost is ready to use, you can check the soil pH. This will be a good indicator to understand whether your soil is decomposed enough to start adding to garden beds. Learn how to check the soil pH in the link below.
How do I know when my compost is ready?
The color of the material should be very dark, (almost black) and should be a consistent texture and composition. When your original materials are unrecognizable, that’s when you know it’s ready to use. In cooler climates where temperatures never really rise, it could take up to two years to compost fully. In warmer temperatures, it can take as little as two months if aerated and composted properly.
Composting is a great way to naturally fertilize your garden and it’s best to start as soon as possible. The sooner you start your compost bin and collect organic material, the better chance you will have at having a beautiful, thriving garden. Learn how to put your compost to use and create an edible garden this year.