Compost can be a great natural way to add supplements to your garden and help fuel plant growth and vitality. In a way, you can convert your trash into garden gold! Moreover, it’s free and allows you to reuse and recycle your kitchen waste. But most people think of it as too hard or complex. They may also shy away from it owing to lack of adequate space or sufficient time. However, contrary to popular conception, compost, if done correctly, is fairly easy to do without having to bother about any bad smells as well.
What is Compost?
Compost is all about microbial activity. All organic matter is subject to decay. Composting is merely a means of regulating that natural process. Composting mostly uses decomposable yard scraps and kitchen leftovers that are often tossed away as waste to manufacture manure for the soil. In simple terms, when plant waste and biodegradable garbage is gathered together in a heap, the bacteria present in the soil break down the matter into a dark, powdery constituent called humus, which enriches the soil. It is rich in nutrients that boost the fertility of the soil.
Why Should You Compost at Home?
Here are the various reasons why you should go in for composting at home:
- The chief motivating factor can be that it doesn’t involve any huge investment and is pocket-friendly. You will even end up saving some money on garbage collection.
- You can recycle and reuse your kitchen waste, unwanted extra, dried fallen leaves, which otherwise would be thrown away, for soil amendment. You may not feel bad about being wasteful in your kitchen as you can utilise the surplus or undesirable for the good of your garden.
- By using compost, you can enrich the soil greatly to produce healthy and vigorous plants, vegetables, and herbs.
- Compost can revive soil’s lost productiveness by modifying its structure, strengthening its texture and aiding aeration.
- It supplies all desirable nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen to the soil which plants require for their optimum growth.
- It is also an excellent provider of micronutrients like copper, cobalt, iodine, boron, iron, zinc, and manganese that support the development of healthy roots in plants.
- It can help relax clay soils and enable sandy soils to hold water, thus maintaining healthy conditions for plants to thrive.
What Materials Can You Compost?
Not every waste may be right for making a compost bin. Some materials that can compost are:
- Any sort of vegetable waste, including vegetable/fruit peels and scraps
- Yard waste like dried leaves, flowers, small twigs, hay, etc.
- Things made from a plant, like clean sawdust or wooden chips
- Old newspapers, office paper, cardboard, and toilet paper rolls, preferably all shredded so that they decompose faster
- Eggshells and nutshells, preferably crushed
- Coffee filters and grounds
- Tea bags
- Manure from animals (like cow dung)
What Not to Compost?
Certain things which you may like to avoid for composting are:
- Pet droppings; particularly if you intend to use the compost for growing food crops, as it can spread diseases
- Peels from fruits like bananas, peaches, and oranges as they may contain pesticide residue
- Synthetic chemicals
- Glossy paper or paper having coloured ink
- Diseased plants
- Coal ash
- Dairy items like yoghurt or butter
- Meat products, like fish or bones, as they can draw pests
- Oily or greasy foods
Types of Composting
Composting is a versatile process which means it can be done in many ways depending upon an individual’s needs and the resources available at hand. Some methods of compost can be:
1. Cold Composting
It is a simple method which entails accumulating yard waste and organic materials from the trash in a heap or bin. It is a slow process. Thus, the material may take a year or more to decompose. You can accelerate the process by turning it periodically. But even without doing it, the material will degrade in due course of time.
2. Hot Composting
It is a faster method. You can get compost in a span of two to three months especially if the weather is warm. You require essentially four components, namely, carbon, nitrogen, water and air for this fast-composting process. All the ingredients together feed microorganisms which hasten the decaying process. You need to construct a pile by adding brown and green materials in layers. You may want to cover it to retain the heat, put water to maintain moisture and turn the waste repeatedly to add air.
It refers to compost made with the help of worms. When worms feed on the organic material, they produce castings or vermicompost which is high in nitrogen. However, not all worms can do the trick. You may need to get red worms or red wrigglers for vermicompost to work. Red worms don’t cost much. They can be bought online or from your local plant nursery. Vermicompost commonly takes four to six months to yield finished compost.
4. Enclosed Bins
This method involves neatly putting the pile of waste in an enclosed ready-made container. Several varieties are available, like open-top bins, closed-top bins, or compost tumblers. An open-top bin is merely a box made of wood, plastic or wire mesh which confines the waste matter while it decomposes. You may have to turn the heap occasionally. Fully closed bins or compost digestors are obtainable in different designs like cone-shaped or multi-chambered. They have a lid to drop in the waste and an outlet at the bottom to remove the finished compost. You need not turn the pile. But you may have to add water sporadically to keep it moist. Compost tumblers are of plastic or metal mounted on a setting so that they can be freely rotated to turn over the waste. These kinds of tumblers keep out unwanted animals and rain while still decaying waste at a realistic rate.
Easy Steps to Make Your Own Compost at Home
Some easy steps that you may use as guidelines can be:
- Pick an appropriate site. You may like to choose a secluded spot which has good airflow and easy access to water. The ground should be flat and well-drained. The area may also enjoy partial shade during summers to prevent the pile from becoming too hot and suitable exposure to the sun during winters to maintain apt heat.
- Next, select a fitting compost bin. You can also go in for an open pile. However, bins may have a slight edge as you can keep things neat, preserve heat and discourage animals from poking their nose into the waste. You can buy a composter or even fashion a workable container on your own.
- A vigorous compost pile should be a mix of greens and browns. The key to making a good compost pile is a healthy balance of carbon and nitrogen. Begin with a deposit of course ingredients like twigs which can support aeration and drainage. Then put a layer of leaves. Go on alternating between layers of browns or carbon-rich material (stems, branches, bark dust, straw, bits of wood, coffee filters, shredded paper, egg shells) and greens or nitrogen-rich materials (food scraps, manures, green leaves).
- Keep adding yard and kitchen waste as they get collected. You can place a container on your kitchen counter-top or under the sink to gather kitchen compostables. Empty the fillings into the compost pile when the container gets filled. Do remember to layer it with a covering of browns.
- The compost pile or bin contents shrink as the process of decomposition starts. So continue adding layers until it is full.
- Every so often, check the temperature, moisture, aeration and the carbon-nitrogen ratio of your compost pile.
- You can employ a compost thermometer to record your pile’s temperature. Ideally, the temperature should reach about 140 to 170 degrees.
- The right quantity of moisture is vital. Too much water may not allow organic waste to decompose. Too little may kill the bacteria. The compost pile should feel moist and not soaking wet.
- The carbon-nitrogen ratio is also crucial for a correctly working compost. You may like to preserve a C: N ratio of 25-30:1. If the ratio is high, decaying may become sluggish. If it is too low, you may have a smelly pile. You can maintain this ratio by adding 2 parts green material to 1 part brown material.
- There should be abundant oxygen in the pile for the tiny microorganisms to breathe and keep alive and for efficient decomposition to take place. You can ensure this by turning the pile often. A pitchfork or a compost aerator can be used to mix the pile.
- Finished compost looks dark and crumbly and smells pleasant and earthy.
Common Problems You Will Face with Composting
Some of the common problems that you can face with composting are:
- A compost pile can at times get infested with pests. An enclosed bin with a lid can tackle this issue effectively.
- At times, a pile can start smelling bad. Be mindful of what you put in the compost. Do keep the food scraps buried deep. Avoid adding any bones or meat. In case the pile smells like ammonia, chances are it has an excess of green material. Add more brown materials like dried leaves to even out the foul smell. If the pile stinks like rotten eggs, it probably contains a lot of moisture and less of air. Giving the contents a turn may help fix the problem.
- In case you happen to put a disagreeable item like fish or dairy in the compost, try to take it out. If you are unable to remove it, conceal with some brown material which may help decay it.
- Wet matter, like leaves, can club together and form a carpet of sorts which may stop the pile from decaying evenly. To avoid this issue, add such materials in tiny batches and break them up by using a pitchfork.
- Now and then, a compost pile can get waterlogged, particularly during winters, leading to a soggy mess. To prevent this, keep the pile covered adequately in wet weather. In case it does get soaked, you can resolve it by adding plenty of brown material which decays quickly like straw or dried leaves.
- If you feel the decaying process is too slow and hardly any usable compost is formulating, the pile may be too small or too dry. Add more layers or water. Keep it adequately insulated, especially in cold weather. Sometimes lack of nitrogen can also slacken decomposition. Adding some green material may do the trick.
Additional Tips to Make Compost in Less Time
Some useful tips that may aid in making compost more speedily can be:
- When starting a compost pile, you can add well-aged manure or matter high in nitrogen, as this may charge up the microbes accountable for decimating the organic materials into compost.
- Always shred or chop the materials before dropping them in the compost bin. The smaller the matter, the faster it may degrade.
- It is a good idea to avoid using plants treated with pesticides.
- Adding many layers to your pile may help produce more heat which can accelerate the decay process.
- Turn your compost pile as often as you can. Turning aids in infusing more oxygen to the pile which may not only hurry the composting but can also help keep the pile fresh.
- Ensure enough sunlight for your pile or bin. Microbes are most active when warm.
- Bear in mind to add sufficient browns to your compost lest it becomes too damp for any decomposition to take place.
- Be sure that your pile is suitably aerated and has ventilation. You can add tree branches or mix coarser materials to maximise air circulation. Aeration is crucial for effective decomposition and curbing unpleasant odours.
- It may be best to avoid adding any garlic or onions to your compost pile for it is believed that they repel earthworms who play a significant role in the entire decomposition process.
- Whenever adding any fresh material, make sure to mingle it properly with the bottom layers as well.
Composting can be an extremely rewarding experience. You can always choose from the many methods of composting. Everybody can commit differently to the whole process. Some may like a simple mound of waste in the backyard while others can opt for something more complex. Regardless of whatever you select, it is much uncomplicated and effortless than you think!