Composting is becoming a more popular activity for new gardeners and many have been doing it for years. It is one of best amendments gardeners can use to improve their soil, regardless of whether it is sand, silt or clay, and it’s free if you make it yourself. Compost provides aeration and increases water infiltration in tight clay soils, while it acts like a sponge to hold water and nutrients in dry sandy soils.
The most common question asked about composting is “what should I put in the compost pile?” It was explained to me in simple terms that I think make a lot of sense. Think in terms of greens and browns. The greens in the compost pile provide nitrogen and some moisture, while the browns provide the carbon for the microbes to feed on and break down.
Greens and browns
Greens can come in quite a variety. During the growing season and throughout the fall, grass clippings make a great green for the compost pile. Other greens include apple peels, celery, banana peels, and other fruit, vegetable, and kitchen scraps. Coffee grounds are also considered a green. Take note that scraps like dairy, meat and animal products should not be composted.
Browns are readily available (and free) in the fall and include things like fallen leaves, dried grass clippings, straw, small prunings, and even shredded paper works. Avoid using large chucks of wood or limbs since these take too long to break down.
One more thing to avoid putting in the compost pile are pet wastes. There are potential diseases that can be transmitted through pet manures. However, if you can get manure from forage eating animals such as sheep, chickens, or cattle, then those can be added to the compost pile as greens.
Layer green and browns and include soil
Normally we need two times the amount of brown, or dry items, as opposed to those with moisture (greens). Begin by layering the browns then the greens and then adding a thin layer of soil. Soil must be a part of the pile as it acts like the ‘yeast’ and contains the microbes to start the decomposing process. Continue the layers of browns, greens, and soil as the materials become available.
Keep moist and turn
Moisture is a key ingredient, so as you build the pile, continue to wet it down. In a properly functioning compost pile, it should almost have the moisture consistency of a wet sponge. One of the problems with compost piles that don’t work is that it’s too dry, and the microorganisms can’t feed.
Once you create the mix it’s simply a matter of monitoring moisture, turning the pile at least once per month and waiting. Once the compost is finished (is a dark brown, soil-like material with an earthy smell) it can be tilled into planting areas and used as mulch around plants.