with The Helpful Gardener
Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.
The Elements of Making Compost
Air and moisture are two important factors when making compost as both assist in the decomposition process. As you add ingredients to your bin, wet them down a bit, but don’t saturate the bin or air will not be able circulate properly. Mixing and turning your compost from time to time (once a month is fine, once a week is better) will help to aerate the compost, thereby speeding up decomposition. Aeration will also keep your compost from become stinky. A great tool to assist with this process is the “Compost Aerator.” This easy to use tool helps to mix the compost ingredients and circulate air throughout the bin. It may even spare you the chore of turning your compost with a shovel or pitchfork.
I am a big fan of the compost tumbler for a few reasons. All of the compost tumbler type composters will speed your detritus-to-humus process, usually cutting the time in half (or more!). Sure they’re a small expense, but going from six months to three weeks for compost is a huge gain. Why so much faster? Microbes are living organisms that break down organic matter; like most living things they need oxygen (that’s why you need to turn the pile, to keep it from going anaerobic (without oxygen; all the microbes die and rot and that’s why it gets stinky…) Turning that pile is hard work and it tends to get put off (Who really gets up in the morning and says “I feel great. Let’s go turn over two hundred pounds of decomposing humus!”).
The tumbler gets a few turns every time something goes in and VOILA! Perfect aeration means optimal conditions for microbes. More microbes mean faster breakdown which increases temperature which further stimulates microbial activity which increases temperature which… you get the idea. (Those of you who have read other pages on the site have heard me spiel about mycorrhizal fungi; these are the good guys growing here, too!) This is an especially smart method for the senior gardener who might have trouble with those two hundred pounds of detritus; the tumbler makes compost so much faster you never get that kind of build-up, and the turning mechanisms on some models are so good a child can turn a hundred pounds of compost without effort.
I was skeptical when these things first came out, but all you need to do is open one of these when it’s working hard and get a blast of 120º air in your face and you realize that this is the best way to compost, bar none. I can recommend this to everyone out there, but don’t take my word for it. Find someone else who owns one and ask them; the rave reviews will sell you for sure.
Another quick point to consider; as microbes are the key factor in breaking down your compost adding a few to start the process is always a good idea. While you can purchase compost starter the right guys for the job will show up eventually. Once you get that first cooked batch, make sure to set some aside as starter for the next batch (any of you that have used sour dough bread are already using the exact same practice, hopefully with a different outcome, though).
Depending on the speed of your composting technique, your compost should be ready in approximately six months to a year. Good compost should smell earthy, even sweet, and should be dark and crumbly. The compost should no longer resemble any of the original ingredients. To feed compost to your garden, spread the compost over the soil (about ½ inch to 2 inches thick) and then till or dig the compost into the soil. Early spring is a good time to do this. Compost also makes a great mulch when spread over the soil about 2 to 3 inches thick. Even though it is not mixed in with the soil, the compost will release nutrients into the soil below it. Spring and Fall are both appropriate times to mulch.
I hope these composting tips have provided you with the knowledge you need to get started on your own composting adventure. Composting is really quite easy to make. You will develop your own method as you find what works best for you with the ingredients that you have available. There is no fertilizer better than compost, and you can make it yourself for free!