What is Composting?
Composting is a controlled, aerobic (oxygen-required) process that converts organic materials into a nutrient rich soil amendment or mulch through natural decomposition. The end product is compost – a dark brown almost black, earthy-smelling material.
Materials added to the compost pile during the composting process will feed the microorganisms. They use carbon and nitrogen to grow and reproduce and they utilize water to digest materials and oxygen to breathe. Fun fact, there are more microorganisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people in the world!
Compost is beneficial to your vegetable beds, flower beds, trees/shrubs and even patching spots in your lawn! And the best thing is you can easily compost at home using food scraps from your kitchen and dry leaves and woody material from your yard!
Why Should You Compost at Home?
Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It is one of the best ways we can take to reduce our waste, we can address climate change and build a healthy soil for your backyard ecosystem.
By taking our food scraps, grass trimmings and fallen branches and tossing them into our compost piles, we can transform our waste streams into a beneficial soil amendment.
You can use your compost to build healthier soil, prevent soil erosion, conserve water, and improve plant growth in your garden and yard.
Composting at home
Having the right proportions of “ingredients” in your compost pile will provide the composting microorganisms with the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and moisture they need to break down the material into finished compost.
When adding your browns (dried leaves and sticks) and greens (yard trimmings and food scraps) to your pile add at least two to three times the volume of browns to the volume of greens. Always ensure your food scraps are covered by four to eight inches of dry leaves or other browns.
Air and water are the other key ingredients in your pile. To ensure air circulation, add enough browns and turn your compost occasionally. To maintain moisture in your pile, make sure your combined materials have the consistency of a wrung out sponge.
Compost Ingredient List
Like all great cooks, you will need an ingredient list!
The ingredients for composting include a proper balance of the following materials:
- Carbon rich materials (browns) can include dry leaves, plant stalks and twigs.
- The carbon rich materials provide food for the microorganisms to consume and digest.
- Nitrogen rich materials (greens) include grass clippings and food scraps.
- The nitrogen rich materials heat up the pile to create ideal conditions for the material to breakdown.
- Water (moisture)
- Air (oxygen)
As composting proceeds, the organic acids become neutralized, and the mature compost generally has a pH between 6 and 8 as anaerobic conditions develop during composting.
Organic acids may accumulate rather than breakdown. Aerating (mixing) your compost pile should help reduce this acidity.
If you find your pH is too high (and you can test this by bringing us a sample to test, free of charge), adding lime may be needed to help reduce the acidity of the pile.
There are a few factors that might cause a spike in your pH. A combination of too much moisture and insufficient oxygen can cause the pile to increase in acidity.
Be sure to add nitrogen rich material when adding lime to help balance out the pH as well.
The moisture level of your compost pile should be high. You can maintain your levels by making a depression in the top of the pile so that it is lower than the sides, like a bowl, to aid in receiving and absorbing rainfall.
Mixing and turning your pile monthly will aid in maintaining proper oxygen levels that aid in the decomposition process and will enable the excess carbon dioxide to be released from your pile. This will also help expel any access water if your pile becomes to saturated.
Harvest your finished product
When your compost pile is no longer heating up after mixing and when there are no visible food scraps, allow your pile to cure or finish for at least four weeks.
You can relocate the oldest compost at the bottom of the pile to a separate area to cure or stop adding materials to your pile.
After curing, your pile will have shrunk to about one third of its original size. Compost in a well-maintained pile will be finished and ready for use in about three to five months.
Left unattended, a pile may take a year to decompose. The compost will look dark, loose, and crumbly and smell like fresh soil. Most, if not all, of the materials that went into the compost pile should be decomposed. Screen or sift your finished compost to filter out materials that didn’t break down (twigs fruit pits, eggshells, and items like produce stickers and plastic).
You can make a homemade screener our of ¼ inch hardware cloth or an old window screen fastened to a wooden frame.
Fruit pits, eggshells etc. that you sifted out can be added back into the active pile or to a new pile.