Lots of novice gardeners believe that their plants and vegetables only need plenty of water and sunlight in order to sustain a healthy and fruitful lifespan. However this is not entirely true as plants also need healthy soil rich in nutrients to be able to survive and grow properly. The solution to this dilemma is composting.
Now, most of us aren’t too sure of what the heck composting is or what it even entails – I know I didn’t! An easy way to explain it is composting is a way for us to give back to the earth by using organic materials such as food scraps, vegetable scraps, grass clippings, leaves and manure from grass eaters like cows, sheep and rabbits. In general, composting is a wonderfully organic process that benefits your garden and the environment tremendously. In today’s article we’ll go ahead and talk about the benefits of composting, what you should and shouldn’t compost, and some composting systems you should consider investing in.
We all know that when anything dies it starts to decompose – humans, animals, plants, it’s all a very natural process. But did you know that in turn, the soil becomes very rich in nutrients and new life starts to grow? That’s the true benefit of composting and that’s what you want for your garden. In addition to improving your soil, it saves you money, makes for terrific mulch for your garden, and places less burden on landfills.
Before you start undertaking a large composting project, there are a few key things you should keep in mind, like what you can and can’t use for composting. Let’s start with what you shouldn’t compost; this includes weeds full of seeds and/or diseases, pesticide infested plants, wood ashes, lime, barbeque charcoal, meat, grease, bones, dairy products, cat, dog and/or human waste, plastic, metal, glass, branches, wood chunks, anything contaminated, and large loads of soggy matter. Obviously anything in the aforementioned list would have an adverse effect on your compost, or won’t decompose properly, especially the bones, but we’ll go more into that later on in a future article.
With that said, it’s highly recommended that you use grass clippings, leaves, non-diseased and seed sprouting weeds, dead plants, food scraps like fruit and veggie wastes, cow, sheep or llama manure, straw/hay, coffee grounds, and even hair and lint when composting. These items break down quick and easily, giving you the end result that you’re looking for.
The next thing that you need to keep in mind is where you’re going to be doing all of this composting work. While some don’t mind working on their compost heap out in the open, like in the woods or in an open area preferably away from prying eyes (I never said it was a pretty looking process), I suggest looking into a bin or tumbler system. There are a couple of compost bin systems that you should consider: the one bin and multi-bin systems. For the money conscious the one bin system is the preferred method since it is easy and most municipalities even work with manufacturers to make this method available to the public. In addition, it’s easy to move about, most can hold heat well and is sturdy enough to keep rodents and other wildlife out. The multi-bin system is for households that produce a lot of waste; it generally does the same thing as the one bin method but it allows you to stockpile your materials in one bin and in the other when more materials become ready. Both methods take anywhere from three to eight months in terms of ready to use compost.
Another method you can consider is working with a compost tumbler, which isn’t cheap, but it is small if you’re working with limited space. Think of the benefits though: tumblers rotate which keep your compost aerated and generate heat, which in turn means that you’ll have a batch of ready to use compost in about three weeks. The wire collector is another option to weigh. Great for garnering up quick, ready to use composting, it’s cheap and you can even make one yourself out of rabbit wire or field fencing. However, I don’t really recommend it too often because it’s easy for wildlife to break in to and it doesn’t hold in heat very well. But the great thing about it is after your compost is done and ready, all you have to do is just remove the wire covering.
Do keep in mind the laws of your city. You wouldn’t think it, but check with your local government agency to see what your city will let you compost, like food scraps and what not. After all being cited for not composting within the legalities of your city isn’t very green. And when choosing the ideal composting system, think about your needs, how much waste you can you’d regularly add to it, how animal-resistant it is, and whether you can easily remove your ready to use compost. I know it’s a lot to think about before you begin, but trust me, it’s well worth the effort. In our next installment I’ll go ahead and talk about the science and art of composting – stay tuned!
*Referenced from Home Composting Made Easy by C. Forrest McDowell, PhD and Tricia Clark-McDowell, 2002.