January 24, 2021
It's a new year with hopefully new goals for everyone. One of mine is to add a few more compost bins to the homestead. We have two working ones at the moment but I would like to experiment with a few more methods. One of the joys of composting is that it is really not an exact science. Everyone settles into routines that work well for them. Some use simple cold composting, which really just involves creating a big mound of compostable things in a corner of the yard and waiting for them to break down. Others, myself included, require a more speedy process for the amount of humus we wish to create. Humus is the finished product of ones compost bin. It is the dark, organic matter that is created from decomposing materials. It is what makes our soil healthy and full of beneficial bacteria. So to create this more quickly, I use the hot composting method in the Green Cart Garden. John built us two good sized bins when we moved in and we've been using them ever since. If building a container to begin your compost sounds too time consuming...no worries...there are many good ones available for purchase. And you can be up and running in one afternoon!
Hot composting involves following a simple rule; the Ratio of 3 to 1. Three parts carbon to one part nitrogen. In other words, three parts brown to one part green. If you maintain the ratio, it's hard to go wrong. Brown materials include dried leaves, twigs, untreated cardboard, newspapers, coffee filters etc. Green materials are grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, coffee grinds, tea bags and the like. Layer the pile and keep it moist. It should feel like a damp sponge to the touch. Overwatering will kill off the good bacteria. It the pile gets too wet add more carbon; if too dry add more nitrogen and sprinkle of water. The only other thing it requires is turning for aeration as it heats up. And it will heat up! Done properly a compost heap can even release visible steam. Some very devoted gardeners will take the temperature of the heap with a long compost thermometer. The temp should be between 140-155. I find just putting my hand into the pile and feeling the heat is more than sufficient to confirm the bin is working. During the more active seasons we turn the bins once a week. You will know your compost is “fully cooked” when your collection resembles, what gardeners call, “black gold”. It will be rich, crumbly, black humus!
Now the good part! It is ready to be spread over all your vegetable and flower beds. It is an excellent non chemical fertilizer to use anywhere. Another way to extend the benefits of your completed compost is to make compost tea. Steep some compost in water for 48 hours and use it as an amazing liquid fertilizer. I find this most useful in my potted garden. It is easier to get the nutrients of the compost into my containers using the tea method. We find it works especially well for flowering plants and bushes.
The added bonus of starting to compost is the amount of food waste that stays out of the landfills. The average person creates approximately one pound of compostable waste each day. So instead of adding to the pollution of an already overly taxed planet we can instead create wonderful nutrient dense compost that helps heal it. Keeping a small pail on your counter or under your kitchen sink will help you easily collect your kitchen scraps and a walk to bin toss it in is all that is required most days. It is a wonderful way to be good to the earth while helping ourselves create a bountiful garden. In the words of Nhat Hanh, “ The gardener does not think of throwing away the garbage. She knows that she needs the garbage. She is capable of transforming the garbage in compost, so that the compost can turn into lettuce, cucumber, radishes and flowers again, with the energy of mindfulness.”
And that is a blessing on all of us.