What is Compost?
Compost happens naturally as organic matter decomposes. It is sometimes referred to as “black gold” because it contains many nutrients for plant growth. This dirt is great for gardens or for improving the soil structure.
Composting is the active intervention and expediting of this process. Composting is what happens when we intervene and monitor this process. By doing this we can ensure that we have a regular supply of this nutrient dense earth.
The primary reason is the environmental benefits. When you compost, less of your waste ends up in a landfill. Compost can suppress some soil-borne diseases. Increasing the population of microbes and cause them to out-compete pathogens. Compost is a great substitute for topsoil or fertilizer supplement when gardening. It can also be really fun and educational for the whole family.
It is cost effective and you’re more in control of knowing what exactly is going into your soil. Different plants require different nutrients and you can craft your compost ingredients accordingly.
There are a lot of different ways to Compost.
You can do hot or cold compost, add worms or let nature provide critters, in a bin, in the ground, above ground, in a wire cage, the options are endless. For more information on the types of bins you can use or design check out the references in the comments below.
For this video we are going to show three different types of cold compost. We have a large black rotating bin, a cat litter bin, and a boxed in area in the yard. The rotating bit and cat litter bin can be considered hot compost because the containers will keep the heat in. These will be ready in 3-6 months. The open box is considered cold compost and will be ready in 6-12 months.
The essential elements for creating good compost are:
Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Water
No matter what your bin looks like, you want to make sure it is well ventilated. You can see with the boxed area it is exposed to the air, the black bin has holes along the side and near the cover. When using the cat litter bin for compost, what we want to do is drill some holes in one end of the bin.
You want to make sure your compost remains damp to the touch. You can achieve this easily by adding water to your bin. Be mindful not to overwater your compost.
Now for the fun part, the carbon and nitrogen! Here are a couple different charts on the kinds of nitrogen and carbon sources you can use for your compost:
It’s also helpful to know what kinds of things cannot be composted. As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want to compost cooked food or meat at home. These require a much higher temperature to process.
Things not to compost: Bones, Cheese, Cooking oil, Dairy Products, Lard, Mayonnaise, Meat products, Milk, Peanut butter, animal feces, plastic, petroleum, solvents, Salad dressing.
Knowing what to put in your compost is just one step in the process. It’s also important to pay attention to the nitrogen to carbon ratio. Good compost falls in the range of 25:1 – 40:1 with the ideal being 30:1.
Here’s a list of common compostable items and their ratios:
Let’s use the calculator online to see how we can combine food scraps with newspaper and leaves to create the perfect mix of compost.
As you can see in the screen shot here, for every 1 part of food waste you would need 4 parts of newsprint and 4 parts of dry loose leaves to create a ration of 27:1.
You can play around with the calculator online to see what different things you can add to get the perfect compost ratio. The important thing to remember is to include sources of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and water.
Another thing that is important in creating great compost is rotating your ingredients. The black bin is probably the easiest to rotate, you just give it a spin like on the price is right. With the cat litter bin, you can just flip it over, and in the boxed in set-up you will need to use a shovel to rotate the mixture. Compost should be rotated every 3 to 4 days or twice a week.
Now let’s talk about hot and cold composting. Cold compost is less labor intensive and the temperature will range from 40-110 degrees. Hot compost will range from 130-170. The boxed area is an example of cold compost. The black bin and kitty litter container can be considered hot compost. You can construct a hot compost pile outside by placing a tarp over the ingredients to trap the heat in. To keep the pile warm, before the temperature drops to 100 you want to turn the pile to aerate the soil. The heat comes from the bacteria and microbes working on breaking down the pile. By turning the pile, you give them some new material to snack on and keep the temperature high.
How do you know when your compost is finished? When the material is an even texture and has no strange odors and the pile is the same temperature as the air.
Do you have a composting story you’d like to share? Or have a burning question about composting? Write it in the comments below!!
Carbon: Nitrogen calculations videos
Compost Ratio Calculator