Garden Tips, Tools & Advice
Tools & Resources
by the Staff at Seeds of Change
Quick Start Guide (detailed instructions below)
What is Compost?
Organic gardening is all about feeding the soil to grow healthy plants, and the best food for your soil is compost. Adding compost to your garden soil provides nutrients for your plants, improves the structure of your soil, and helps it retain water. And the great news is that you can make it yourself for free with natural materials you have around your yard and garden.
Compost is a rich, earthy material created by the natural decomposition action of soil dwelling bacteria, fungi, earthworms and insects. You can make compost out of natural materials like leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, and the weeds that you pull out of your garden. By keeping these materials on-site instead of throwing them away, you help keep natures nutrient cycle going and ensure a steady harvest of healthy food.
Building the Pile:
You need four basic things to make good compost: moist green material; dry brown material; air; and water.
Turning the pile:
Once you have built your layer cake for the microbes, your pile will go through hot and cold phases and gradually shrink in size.
The hot phase is the most active, and temperatures in the pile can reach 1300-1400F, which kills most weed seeds as well as soil pathogens. A few days after you build your pile, dig into the center and feel the heat. This heat is created by the digestive activity of the microbes. This hot phase usually lasts about 4-7 days before beginning to cool down.
If you want compost fast, turn your pile after 10 days to introduce more air and kick off another hot phase. Do this a couple of times and you can have ready-to-use compost in 6-8 weeks!
Once the pile has cycled through a few hot phases, it cools down and the earthworms and soil insects move in to finish the work. You can tell that your compost is ready to use when you can no longer recognize any of the original materials. It should look like light, crumbly soil, and smell rich and earthy.
Each time you turn your pile you will notice the original materials you put in the pile breaking down. You can troubleshoot your pile easily at this time.
Containers and Bins:
You can follow the same basic instructions described above to make compost in bins or other containers. You can make your bins out of recycled pallets, chicken wire, concrete blocks, or hay bales. Each bin must be at least 3x3x3 feet to hold enough material for the decomposition process to be effective.
If you dont have enough space for a three-bin system, and dont want to make your own bin, there are several different commercial products available to contain your compost pile. Our Rugged Composter bin is great for small yards, keeps the materials contained, out of sight, and out of the reach of most critters. This is a great system to use to make compost slowly over time for those people who dont want to put in much effort.
Rotating drum composters are also available. They take up more space than the square Rugged Composter, but make compost quicker with their easy turning mechanism.
Making your own compost is easy, and it is absolutely the best, and least expensive gift you can give to your garden. Start your own compost pile today and you will reap the rewards for many years to come.
For more details about the science behind composting, please see the article Feeding the Soil: Combining Science and Art in the Compost Pile in the Learning Center of our website.
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