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The Magic of Composting

What Is Compost?

Noun - Compost is described as a rich, crumbly, soil-like material used for gardening

Verb - Composting is the breaking down of plant material that is no longer living, with the help of micro-organisms through a decomposition process

Understanding a few basic composting principles will help you get the best results.

If you want to produce compost that looks good enough to eat just think - Mmmmm!

1. Mix

Add as many different plant based ingredients as you can find
Alternating layers of leaves, grey matter, and soil
Different materials provide different nutrients. For example: grass blades provide nitrogen, dried leaves in the fall provide phosphorous

2. Mass

The more bulk you have (up to a certain point) the faster it will decompose
If everything is chopped too finely there will be no air circulation, causing unfavourable conditions. You do not want to have many pieces over 1/4" diameter

3. Mash

Even though you do want to have some bulk, large, thick pieces will decompose very slowly
For example – the stems of tomato plants would take a long time to decompose as is, but if you were to cut or shred it into small pieces – It would decompose much quicker
In the fall – shred leaves with the lawn mover before adding it to the pile

4. Moisten

In order for proper decomposition to occur it is necessary for the pile to be moist and not too dry or too wet

5. Move

Keep turning your pile towards the centre of the pile where all the action is taking place
The centre of the pile will heat up to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 65 degrees Celsius
If you turned your compost pile every day, it would be ready to use in 2 weeks
If you turned your compost pile once a week, it would be ready in 3 months
If you turned your compost pile once a month, it would be ready in 1 year

If you have followed these principles, the results will be the most amazing material you could hope for to use in your garden. Compost is often referred to as “black gold”.

What Can Be Composted?

Anything of living plant origin can be composted, but the quality and quantity of the materials you use affects the process and determines the nutrient value of the finished compost. Here is a chart of what can and cannot be used:

Can Be Used: Each Item should be under 20% of the total pile

Straw

Hay

Leaves (Shred if large or waxy)

Grass Clippings (Dried first)

Old sod

Reject or Soiled Produce

Fruit & Veg. Peels

Newspaper (Shredded)

Eggshells (Crushed)

Stable or Poultry Manure

Tea Bags

Garden Soil

Caution – Limited Amounts: Each Item should be under 10% of the total pile

Corn Cobs

Shredded Twigs

Shredded Bark

Pine Needles

Hedge Trimmings

Wood Shavings

Sawdust

Coffee Grounds

Peanut Shells

Do Not Use!

Diseased Materials

Pest-laden Materials

Weeds that have gone to seed

Meat & Bones

Grease

Whole Eggs

Cheese

Seed & Fruit Pits

Cat & Dog Manure

Bakery Products

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Micro-organisms

As mentioned in our definition of composting, decomposition only occurs with the presence of micro-organisms. Micro-organisms are small microscopic creatures that are naturally present in soil. Like most things, there are good micro-organisms and bad micro-organisms. The success of your compost pile depends upon which micro-organisms you have present. The good micro-organisms are called “aerobic” and the bad ones are called “anaerobic”.

Good composting organisms need 4 things in order to survive:

A balanced diet – not all the same material
Water
Air
Warmth

That is why it is important to have a compost pile made of different materials that has some bulk to them and that is kept moist. When these conditions are met, the pile will naturally heat up in the centre and that is where organisms will be the most active. When only anaerobic organisms are present, that is when you have a bad odour.

Tips For Successful Composting: Summary

Good Compost Pile: Aerobic

Ingredients:  Made from once-growing plant material

Necessary Size: Between 3’x3’x3’ to 4’x4’x4’

Moisture: Evenly Moist

Mixing: As often as you can

Other Characteristics:

Presence of earthworms

No odours

Decomposes quickly

Medium sized pieces

Heats up in the middle of the pile

Contains many nutrients needed for proper plant growth

Good micro-organisms

Bad Compost Pile: Anaerobic

Ingredients: Animal Parts, Man-made synthetic parts

Necessary Size: Under 3’x3’x3’ or over 4’x4’x4’

Moisture: Too dry or too wet

Mixing: Never

Other Characteristics:

No earthworms

Bad rotting odour

Very slow to decompose

Too fine or too large of pieces

Does not heat up

Does not have many nutrients

Bad micronutrients

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