Mix, Mash, Moisture, Move: The Four M’s of Composting
Compost is an important ingredient in every garden. They call it Black Gold because what it can do for your plants is priceless. People think that composting has to be difficult – but it doesn’t. People have a way of over-complicating things. First off to make things clear let’s define the word compost. According to Merriam-Webster, the noun compost is a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land. But it’s also a transitive verb meaning to convert (as plant debris) to compost. So composting makes compost and compost is again? Oh yeah, decayed organic matter -well that explains that!
Let’s see what else we can find from the Concise Encyclopedia on compost:
“Mass of rotted organic matter made from decomposed plant material. It is used in agriculture and gardening generally to improve soil structure rather than as a fertilizer, because it is low in plant nutrients. When properly prepared, it is free of obnoxious odors.”
Well that is concise mouthful so let’s break it down.
The mass of rotted organic matter
|Green matter for composting|
In order to make your compost balanced you want to remember not to use just one or two items but many different items so you can have a balanced compost. The “rotted organic matter” you want to collect are easy to remember if you break it down into two groups: brown matter and green matter. Brown matter consist of things are hard and dry and provide carbon into the mix. Green matter consists of things are moist and wet and provide nitrogen.
Brown Materials include: shredded newspaper, cardboard (non-waxed), dried leaves, brown bags, small amounts of sawdust, eggshells, pine needles, tea bags, corn cobs, straw and wood prunings. No single brown item should make up more than 10% of your entire mixture. You can also use fresh manures from rabbits, horses, goats and chicken unless you want to have a vegan compost. Green items include: vegetables, fruit, seaweed, kelp, plant cuttings, garden weeds and trimmings, and apple cores, etc.
No single green item should make up more than 20% of your entire mixture. If you plan on using grass clipping, you have to dry them out first, otherwise you will have a stinky, icky mess on your hands.
No-no items include meat scraps, bakery products, seeds and fruit pits, dairy products, grease, whole eggs, cheese and oily things like peanut butter, mayonnaise and lettuce leaves with salad dressing on them nor can you use table scraps from dinner. No pet food or pet litter and keep the large branches out as well, unless you can chop it up.
Some other things which you may not realize you can use include things like hair and pet fur, feathers, dryer lint, wood ashes, paper towel, the tubes from toilet paper and paper towels.
Ultimately while collecting these materials and composting them you want to strive for a 3:1 ratio of Brown:Green aka Carbon:Nitrogen ratio.
|Brown Matter like wood chips and bark|
An important thing in composting is mashing your ingredients into small bits. The smaller the better as it will help speed up the decomposition process. Things like dried leaves can be run over with a lawn mower to make them smaller. Moisture is very important as well. You are striving for a damp mixture not too wet or too dry either. Finally you must keep turning your pile, always towards the center of the pile where its the hottest and moistest part of the mixture. That’s where all the good stuff happens in the decomposition process.
Composting can take some time , but the more you mix and mash, the quicker the process can be. Also having a certain amount of mass will help to expedite the process as well. When you add new things to the mix be sure to mix it in well. Think of it was making a meatloaf or a cake. You need to be sure all the ingredients get mixed well together each time you add something new.
Where and how you choose to compost is a personal choice. There are a lot of different methods, like barrels which can be rolled or containers with handles which can be turned. But a simple 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 area is all you need – anything bigger would be ineffective and actually hinder the process. You can build your own compost pit easily with some wood or brick. You can even use the black garbage bag method, but that can be a rather stinky process and tends to use only one ingredient. If you do this just be sure to add other composted blends to your compost mixture before you add it to the garden so it is well balanced.
Is there anything else?
One of the most challenging parts about composting can be collecting the materials. Separating things out doesn’t always come naturally to folks. Especially if you have teenagers or children running about who find using a garbage can challenging. That may be just my kids. Anyway, I find that having a can especially designated for the compost heap helpful. Clearly mark it, maybe select a different color bin altogether. If you have any ideas in this area, I would love to hear about them. If you’re on Twitter send me a message @HomeharvestCT or simply leave a comment on this blog.
Composting is a fabulous way of helping to reduce our waste and is such a valuable ingredient for our gardens. Happy composting everyone!