Monday, September 28, 2015

Composting: Get Good Results

By following some simple rules you can speed up the processing time and produce good compost in one to two months. Some ‘experts’ can even turn a pile of garden waste into nice compost in as little as 14 days.  Here are the essentials:

A. Proper moisture and air (oxygen) content - Compost works best if the moisture content of the materials is about 50%. That’s not easy to measure, but it has been estimated to be about the moisture content of a wrung-out sponge.  If the material is too dry, decomposition will stop; if too wet, oxygen becomes limited, decomposition slows and foul odors will be produced.

B. Proper carbon/nitrogen ration - For effective composting, the raw materials must have a proper carbon/nitrogen ratio – set at about 30:1.  Since this cannot be easily measured, experience has shown that mixing equal volumes of green and brown plant material will give this ratio. The 'greens' are fresh, moist materials like grass clippings, weeds, manures and kitchen scraps. The 'browns' are dry materials such as twigs, wood chips, straw, saw dust and paper.  If a pile of twigs are thrown to the side, they will eventually decompose. But when leaves (greens) are combined with the twigs (browns) in the proper ratios, the organic matter will decompose more quickly.    

Mixing the greens with the browns is not only good for obtaining the proper ratio, but also helps to maintain a good oxygen level.  Grass clippings alone (shredded paper too) tend to mat and exclude oxygen.  Adding twigs helps to open the pile allowing a better movement of air.   

C. Proper size of material - Soft, succulent plant tissue does not need to be chopped into small pieces because it will decompose rapidly.  However, the harder to decompose woody materials will compost best if pieces are ½ to 1 ½ inches in size: the smaller the pieces the quicker the decomposition.

D. Proper pile size - The size of the compost pile is important.  The minimal size is 3 cubic feet (3x3x3). Maximum size would be around 5x5 and as long as you want it.

E. Proper turning - Turning the pile is not required, but will certainly speed up the process; turn any time from every day to every10 days. Turning helps ensure proper air circulation along with good moisture and heat distribution. 

Finally, here’s how to know when the composting process is finished: when the majority of the pile has become dark, loose, crumbly and sweet smelling.  Also, the original ingredients will not be recognizable with the exception of a few pieces of tough woody material. Composting is a good way to reuse our natural resources, recycle nutrients and add good organic matter back into the soil.