So what is compost anyway? Compost is the different kinds of organic matter like leaves, fruits, vegetables, twigs, branches etc. that has been broken down by the process of natural decomposition by mother nature. Compost has a dark brown to black color and it resembles much like black soil. It is rich in nutrients that is beneficial to plants.
Wikipedia defines it as “Compost (/ˈkɒmpɒst/ or /ˈkɒmpoʊst/) is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compost)
What is Composting?
The process of composting simply requires making a heap of organic matter that is based of green waste like leaves, twigs, food waste from the kitchen etc, some dry organic matter like dry leaves or branches, and lastly some water to keep it all a bit wet. Once all of this is mixed well, all you need to do is wait for it all to break down into humus after a period of weeks or months. The length of time it takes to decompose depends on how often you turn or mix the compost to aerate it, as oxygen plays a big part in breaking down the organic matter into compost. Worms, insects and fungi further help to break up the organic materials into rich, nutritious compost. Worms also contribute by creating aeration and drainage tunnels when moving through the compost. They also leave droppings that make the compost more nutritious.
Scientifically explained, the process of composting requires water, air, carbon and nitrogen rich organic materials that is properly aerated by regularly turning the mixture. Bacteria and fungi need oxygen to function (aerobic bacteria). They create heat, carbon dioxide and ammonium, all which is needed to make a good compost.
Benefits of Composting
- Composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus to your soil, which fuels plant growth.
- Composting restores vitality to depleted soil that was over used for growing plants in the past.
- It’s free of charge and is easy to make in your back yard.
- It reduces waste by recycling most of the kitchen waste that normally gets thrown into the garbage bin, hence reducing waste in landfills.
- Composting is good for the environment as it replaces chemical fertilizers that contaminate the soil.
What Can I Compost
Basically for what can be composted, you need items that are nitrogen based and also items that are carbon based.
Materials that are green or fresh are nitrogen releasing items, such as leaves, vegetables, fruits (whole or their peels). Things that are kitchen waste like peelings, parts of vegetables and fruits that we normally throw out are rich in nitrogen. Keep these in a separate container, one you will only use for collecting composting waste. This is because as the kitchen waste decays, it will have a very bad smell that will stay in the container no matter how much you wash it. Here is an example of a kitchen compost container.
Now for the carbon based materials – these are dry brown materials such as wood ash, twigs, dry leaves, straw or hay, brown paper etc.
A healthy compost pile should have more carbon material than nitrogen material – roughly about 1/3 green material and 2/3 dry brown material. You don’t need to be exact on the equation, just do the best you can. A bit more here or there will still give you a good, healthy compost. Just know this, too much green stuff will make the compost pile wet and smelly. If this happens, add more dry brown stuff and the compost pile will be less wet and emit less foul smell.
Here is a list of what cannot be composted:
- Oily food
- Seeds that can grow into plants in the compost
- Animal waste like dog or cat poop
Keep all of the above out of your compost pile as these will not break down fast and may attract pests that will make a huge mess.
Different Types of Composting
There are many different types of composting methods that can be used, but I am only going to mention some easy popular ones that can be done in your back yard.
- Compost pile – This is far the easiest method of all. All you need is 2/3 brown material, 1/3 green material and some water. Find an area that is not too hot (so the compost will not dry out) like under a tree. Mix the green and brown materials into a heap, then add some water to make the compost a bit wet. Don’t over water the compost; you just want it to be a bit damp, not too soggy. Mix it all again and you’re done. Cover the compost pile/heap with a plastic sheet to keep rain and pests out. Every once a week, turn and mix the compost again. Add more green and brown material to the pile at this time, if you’ve collected some, adding water as required and mix.
- Compost bins – There are many types, shapes and sizes of compost bins. Basically, compost bins have an open area at the bottom and are set directly on the ground. The sides of a compost bin has small holes in them to let air in. They also have a lid on the top to keep excess rain and pests out. The lid may or may not have holes in them. After placing the compost bin on the ground, add 2/3 brown material and 1/3 green material inside. Then add water and mix all together with a shovel or pitchfork. Make sure to cover the compost bin with a lid after that. Keep adding more material into the bin once a week and mix a bit. The bottom part of the bin will have ready to use compost after some time, while the top will have fresh scrap waiting to be broken down into compost. Some bins have a small door to open at the bottom to excess the ready to use compost. Some bins have no opening at the bottom, so you will need to stop adding more stuff into the bin after some time and just wait for all the material to break down into compost.
- Compost tumblers – Compost tumblers are sealed drums that are raised off the ground and are spun around to mix the compost inside. Basically they are rotating compost bins. They normally have some holes on the sides to aid in aeration. These compost tumblers come in various shapes and sizes. Normally there is a door on the tumbler for you to add more material inside the drum to compost. Close the door and spin the compost tumbler a few times to mix the materials inside.
- Vermicomposting – Vermicomposting is using earth worms to chew and digest the green and brown materials into healthy vermicompost. The worms also leave castings which further benefit the plants. As the worms crawl through the material, they create tunnels which help in aeration. The material and worms are placed into a container which has small holes in them to let air in. There are many types of vermicomposting containers sold in the market of various sizes and shapes.
- Compost tea – Compost tea is basically water mixed with some compost. For example, add two handfuls of ready to use compost into a 5 gallon bucket of water. Mix well and cover with a lid. It will be beneficial if the lid has small holes to let air in. Every day, open the lid and mix the liquid well. This lets more air into the liquid. Then cover the lid. Do this every day for a week or two and you will notice the water turning more browner like the color of tea. This compost tea is not for drinking, it’s used as a fertilizer for plants when you don’t have enough compost for all your garden plants. You can sieve the compost tea to just add the liquid to your plants or add the liquid with the compost in it to your plants. Either way it works.
So there you have it. What is compost answered. Easy homemade compost which is one of the most important supplement you can give to the soil and plants in your garden. So why not try it for yourself!