Composting

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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.

Why Compost? 

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.

Composting Calculator

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!!

References:

https://www.planetnatural.com/category/compost/?fbclid=IwAR2pTiZkRqy_kVUcOGpiofTQrwP5pswZEdsqFv7C9-DwtFIKLuE00S1XnJo

https://extension.umd.edu/resource/how-make-compost-home

Carbon: Nitrogen calculations videos

Compost Ratio Calculator

https://www.klickitatcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/3523/Compost-Calculator

How to Make Mint Cuttings

How to Make Mint Cuttings in Water or Soil

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Watch the video!

The most ideal time to grow a new mint plant from a cutting is late spring and early summer. It is very easy to make a new mint plant from a clipping. Mint is a very prolific plant that will quickly spread and take over your yard. For that reason you may wish to keep it in a pot, or you can do like I’ve done in my yard and surround the mint with bricks. Whenever the mint starts to jump beyond the stone I simply transplant them back into the mint zone.

Before you start taking the cuttings you will want to gather all the materials:

  1. Potting soil
  2. Small planter pot with a drainage hole
  3. Clear glass or vase with 1” water in the bottom
  4. Scissors
  5. Root growth hormone (optional)
  6. Clear bin / Ziplock bag

In this video you will see me use chopsticks taped together to hold the mint slightly out of the water. This step is optional. You can just set the mint clipping into the glass of water and get the same results.

Now that you have all of your materials gathered, we will first show how to do the clipping directly in water. 

Steps for Making a Mint Cutting in Water

  1. Cut a mint clipping from the mother plant about 8cm (3-5 inches) in length from the top of the plant. You will want to cut the plant just below a node. A node is where the leaves are coming out of the stem.
  2. Next you will remove the leaves between the bottom node and the top node. Use a scissors to make precise cuts and avoid damaging the plant.
  3. (Optional) Tape the chopsticks below the first node to hold the clipping in the glass.
  4. Place the clipping in a clear container with about one inch of water in the bottom. Make sure that none of the leaves touch the water because they may rot.
  5. Set the clipping in bright, indirect sunlight. Replace the water if it becomes murky.
  6. When the roots are a few inches long, plant the cutting in a pot with potting mix

Steps for Making a Mint Cutting in Soil

  1. Put some potting soil into the small pot with a drainage hole. With your finger press a small hole in the center about 1” deep.
  2. Cut a mint clipping from the mother plant about 8 cm (3-5 inches) in length from the top of the plant. You will want to cut the plant just below a node. A node is where the leaves are coming out of the stem.
  3. Next you will remove the leaves between the bottom node and the top node. Use a scissors to make precise cuts and avoid damaging the plant.
  4. (Optional because mint grows so easily) Apply root growth hormone to the stem of the plant. Do this by first dipping the stem into water and then into the root growth hormone mixture.
  5. Place the root into the small hole in the potting soil and pack the soil in around the root. Add some water to the soil.
  6. Place the whole thing into a clear bin or enclose it in a ziplock bag. This will provide the plant with some humidity to grow.
  7. Set everything in bright, indirect sunlight. Water as needed but don’t over saturate. You can even water it by misting the plant with a spray bottle.
  8. When you see new growth on your mint clipping that means it worked. You can either leave the mint in this pot, transplant it to another pot, or plant it in your yard.

Extra Notes:

Some gardeners suggest using a specific soil for clippings such as: perlite, vermiculite, peet moss, or seed starting mix. I find that mint is very very easy to grow clippings from so it’s not very important what type of soil you use. The first year I tried this I used local Milwaukee soil which is very clay dense. That worked out just fine.

Some blogs suggested using a heating pad underneath your clipping to stimulate growth. I think this is a fantastic idea, especially if you are gardening indoors in the early spring or even winter. Again, I find mint to be really prolific so this tool was not even on my radar for this project.

I prefer using the soil method for clippings. Transplanting the plant from soil is less shocking to the plant than transplanting it from water. If you transplant from water, you may end up needing to transplant more than once and that is more shocking to the plant.