Home composting: It works

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By Orlando Huaman*

 

What is compost?

Compost is a dark, crumbly, and earthy smelling of decomposing organic matter.

Why should I make compost”

Composting is the most practical and convenient way to handle your yard waste. It can be easier and cheaper than bagging these wastes or taking them to Tafa’igata dump. Compost also improve your soil and the plants growing in it. If you have a garden, a lawn, trees, shrubs, or even plant boxes, you have a use for compost.

By using compost you return organic matter to the soil in a usable form. 

Organic matter in the soil improves plant growth by helping to break up heavy clay soils and improving these structures by adding water and nutrients holding capacity to sandy soils, and by adding essential nutrient to any soil. Improving your soil is the first step toward improving the health of your plant. Healthy plants help clean air and conserve our soil, making our communities healthier places to in which to live.

What can I compost?

Anything that was once alive can be composted. Yard waste, such as fallen leaves, grass clipping, weeds (without seeds), bread, crashed egg shells. feathers, flowers, hair, potato peels, rice, and the remain of garden plants, makes excellent compost. 

Woody yard waste can be clipped and sawed down to a size useful for the wood stove or fireplace or they can be ran thru a shredder  for mulching and path making. Used as a mulch or for path, they will eventually decompose and become compost. Also diseased chicken can be composted, the high heat destroy the pathogens.

Care must be taking when composting kitchen scraps. Compost them by the method outlined here. Meat, fish, sauces, dairy products, bones, and fatty foods (such as cheese, salad dressing, and leftover cooking oil) should be put in the garbage. Also no banana, peach, and orange peels.

How can I use compost?

Compost can be used to enrich the flower and vegetable garden to improve the soil around trees and shrubs and as a soil amendment for house plants and planter boxes and, when screened as part of a seed storing mix or lawn top dressing. 

Before they decompose, chopped woody waste makes excellent mulch or path material. After they decompose, these same woody wastes will add texture to gargen soils.

The Essential of Composting

With these principles in mind, everyone can make excellent use of their organic matter.

Biology. The compost pile is really a teeming microbial farm. Bacteria start the process of decaying organic matter. They are the first breakdown plant tissues and also the most numerous  and effective composters. Fungi and protozoans soon joint the bacteria and, somewhat later in the cycle, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and earthworms do their part.

Materials

Anything growing in your yard is potential for these tiny decomposers. Carbon and nitrogen from the cells or dead plants and microbes fuel their activities. The microorganisms  use the carbon  in leaves or wooden waste as an energy source. Nitrogen provides the microbes with the raw elements of protein to build their bodies.

Everything organic has a ratio of C to N (C:N) in its tissues ranging from 500:1 from sawdust to 15:1 from table scraps.

A 30:1 ratio of 30:1 is ideal for the activity of compost microbes. This balance can be achieved by mixing 2 parts grass clipping (which have a C:N ratio of 20:1) with 1 part fallen leaves (60:1) in your compost . Layering can be useful in arriving at those proportions, but a complete mixing of ingredients is preferable for the composting process.

Other materials can also be used, such as  weeds and garden waste. Though the C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for a fast, hot compost, a higher ratio (i.e. 50:1) will be adequate for a slower compost.

Example of C:N ratios:

Sawdust 200-750; Peat moss 50; Straw 50-150; Cow manure 20; Poultry manure 3-15; Horse manure 20-50; Sundried grass clipping 20; Fresh grass clipping 15; Fresh garden debris 20.

Surface Area

The more surface area the microorganisms have to work on, the faster the material are decomposed.

Clipping your garden waste with a shovel or machete, or wringing them thru a shredder  machine or lawn mower will speed composting.

Volume

A large compost pile will insulate itself and hold the heat of microbial activity. Its centre will be warmer than the edges. Piles smaller than 27 cu. ft. will not have trouble holding this heat, while piles larger than 125 cu. ft. do not allow enough air to reach the microbes at the centre. These proportions are of importance only if your goal is fast hot compost.

Moisture Aeration

All life on Earth needs a certain amount of water and air to sustain itself, for the microbes, in the compost are no different. They function best when the compost materials are about as moist as a wrong out sponge, and are provided with many air passages. Extremes of sun or rain can adversely affect this moisture balance in your pile.

Temperature

The faster the composting the better the pile. If you use materials with a proper C:N  ratio, provide a large amount of surface area and  a big enough volume , and see that moisture and aeration are adequate, you will have a hot fast compost (hot enough to burn your hand) and will probably want to use the turning unit as described next.

If you just want to deal with your yard waste in an inexpensive, easy non-polluting way, use the holding unit, also described next.

Composting Yard Waste.

Holding Units.

These simple containers for yard wastes are the least labour and time consuming way to compost.

Which waste and non-woody yard waste are the more appropriate?

You can place the holding unit where is more convenient, as weeds, grass clipping, leaves and harvest remain from garden plants are collected, they can be dropped into the unit chopping or shredding waste alternating  high carbon and high nitrogen material and keeping up yard moisture and aeration will all speed up the process.

Advantages and disadvantages

For yard wastes, this is the simplest method. The unit can be portable, moving wherever needed in the garden. This method can take form 6 months to 2 years to compost organic material, so you need to be patient. Because if it does not get hot, weed seeds (if pathogens present may persist in the compost..)

Variation. Holding units can be made of circles of hardware clothes, old wooden pallets, or wood and  wire. Sod can also be composted with or without a holding unit, by turning sections of it over, making sure that there is adequate moisture, and covering it with black plastic.

Turning Unit

This is a series of 2 or 3 or more bins that allows waste to be turned on a regular schedule.

Turning units are more appropriate for gardeners with a large volume of yard waste and the desire to make a high quality compost.

Which waste?

Non-woody yard waste are appropriate, kitchen waste without meat, bones or fatty food can be added to the centre of the pile if it is turned weekly and reaches high temperature.

How? Alternate the layering of high carbon and high nitrogen material  to approximately a 30;1 ratio. These should be moistened  to the damp sponge stage. The pile temperature should be checked regularly. When the heat decrease substantially turn the pile into the next bin. Dampen the material if they are not moist, and add more high nitrogen material if heating is not occurring, then make a new pile in the original bin. Repeat the process each time the pile in the first bin cools. After 2 weeks in the third bin, the compost should be ready for garden use.

Advantages and disadvantages

This method produces a high quality compost in a short time utilizing a high labour.

Variation.

The unit can be built of wood, a combination of wood and   wire, or concrete block. Another type is the barrel composter, which tumbles the waste for aeration.

The following troubleshooting  chart is a guide to more efficient composting using a Turning Unit.

Soil incorporation

Bury your organic wastes is the simplest method of composting.

Which waste? Kitchen scraps without meat, bones, or fatty foods.

How? Everything should be buried at least 8 inches below the surface.  Holes can be filled and covered becoming usable garden space for the following season.

Advantage and disadvantages. This is a simple method, but because of the absence of air some nutrients will be lost. Rodents and dogs can be a problem  with wastes buried less than 6 inches deep.

Variation. Using a pothole digger, waste can be incorporated into the soil near the drip line of trees and shrubs and in small garden spaces.

Innovative uses of compost

Compost for pest control.- Nematodes infestation. The disease control with compost is attributed to: 1.-Successful competition for nutrients by beneficial microorganisms. 2.- Antibiotic production by beneficial microorganisms. 3.- Successful predation against pathogens by beneficial microorganism. 4.- Activation of disease resistant genes in plants by compost.

Bio – pesticides are becoming effective alternatives to chemical pesticides.  And these are made by adding controlled amounts of pest-fighting microorganisms to compost, which result in ‘tailored” compost with specific pesticide capabilities. When applied to crops will reduce the use of pesticides, fungicides, and nematicides. Also compost thus treated impede Root rot, and Chili wilt.

 

*Orlando Huaman is an agronomist and a freelance writer. 

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