Learning how to Compost

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Up until the last few years composting was often considered a fringe activity.  You wouldn’t expect normal folks to decide one day that they wanted to compost.  Composting was reserved for rural environmental activists, hippies and certainly out of place in suburbs.

However, many towns and even small cities are encouraging their citizens to compost more than ever before.  Some municipalities even offer composting bins and give instructional materials or provide workshops on how to compost.

But why should you compost?  Composting is a great way to offer nutrients to your plants without the expense of packaged plant foods, or chemical fertilizers.  In addition, composting provides a much more robust and healthy experience for your plants than chemical fertilizers.  You see, compost contains all the most important nutrients that plants need, such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous in forms that the plant can readily use.

There are several important concepts to keep in mind with composting.  The first is the balance between green and brown. These two colors work together in composting.  There has to be a certain balance between the green material and the brown material in your compost.  Green material would include things like grass clippings, kitchen scraps and weeds.  Brown material would include things like wood shavings, straw, hay, or dead leaves.  You want to have a mix that’s roughly even between brown and green.

To know whether or not you have the balance between brown and green right check your pile within 24 hours.  If the pile doesn’t heat up within that time, you need more green material.  You can use a compost thermometer to determine the temperature at the center of the pile.  That temperature should be between 150 and 160 degrees.

The next things to keep in mind with composting are the issues of moisture and air speed decomposition.  The air and water that are required to compost need to be balanced in the same way that the greens and browns need to be balanced.  You want your compost to remain about the wetness of a wrung out sponge.  You want it to be damp, but you don’t want it to be soaking wet.  The more frequently you turn a pile, the more quickly you’ll have compost because this allows the oxygen using bacteria to move around.

There are two main problems that can occur with composting.  They include a pile that doesn’t heat up, or a pile that develops an ammonia smell.  Changing the ratio of ingredients will generally resolve these issues.

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