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Making Compost

Almost anything may be composted, with the above exception of animal and dairy products, and a few more, which follow. Human feces may harbour disease, and smells, as will most carnivore excrement, including that of pets. Avoid treated materials, including all printed materials except plain, black-on-white newsprint. Finally, don't perpetuate disease by composting your produce-gone-bad. For more detail, see Compostables.

Manure may be safely added, as may fish and seafood waste, from the kitchen or from a local plant. This despite the fact that both contributions can be intensely olfactory - mix in well and cover with other materials. Make sure that rough, tough or heavy materials are shredded first, i.e. broccoli stems, corncobs, leaves, etc. Smaller is better.

Consider adding grass clippings or leaves, in thin layers, decaying mulch, sawdust and small wood waste, peat, corn husks, rich silt, coffee grounds, eggshells, in addition to your kitchen refuse and spent bean plants. Coniferous debris, citrus rinds, etc. may be used as well. Seed-free weeds may be added, provide the composting process is taken to its very end. The same applies to fallen leaves: incompletely degraded, these contain phenols which actually inhibit growth.

Local industry may provide large amounts of compostables, at little or no cost. Fish scraps were already mentioned, and are very rich in both nitrogen and phosphorus. Many farmers will appreciate your hauling off manure or chicken litter, or whatever undesirables exist locally.

The science of composting informs us that a carbon/nitrogen ratio of about 25 to 1 is ideal for composting. Carbon-rich components are typically dry and brown, nitrogenous ones tend to be fresh, green and moist (though fish meal, blood meal and hoof meal are other excellent nitrogen sources).

Practically speaking, this means about two to three parts of the former should be present for each one of the latter. Less nitrogen, and it won't heat, more, and nitrogen will be wasted, and smelled. Use only well-chopped materials, and layer or mix green and brown.

Also, compost needs moisture. A good compost heap is moist, not soggy, as wet as a damp sponge. Make sure that any additions are watered, if necessary. In a dry season, water the heap itself, lightly and slowly.

Compost activators may help the process in its early stages, but are hardly essential, as any properly made pile quickly heats up. Fresh manure, or some other nitrogen boost can encourage bacteria activity. Compost or blood meal or some of the commercial activators can also play this role.

Ensure that your compost bin or pile has an adequate supply of oxygen. Turn the pile every few weeks, with pitchfork, spade, whatever works. This ensures proper aeration, and speeds composting. Use your spade to chop broccoli stalks, etc., directly into the pile, to save a little labour. If aeration continues to be a problem, jam one or more hollow pipes into the pile, drilled with holes an inch apart, to add oxygen. The results may be impressive: soon, fresh-smelling dark, brown, crumbly stuff tumbles out, ready for the garden.

Garbage bin composterManufactured rotating compost drum

Topics Referenced

Bone Meal and Other Natural Additives
Constructing a Compost Bin
Manure, Nitrogen, and Potassium
Sphagnum and Peat Moss

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