Mike Whitesides, our Extension marketing guru, has asked me to compile some ‘Top 10’ lists for your reading pleasure. Here is the second installment and a timely tip, how to make and use compost:
- Location-location-location! Place your compost bin near the area you plan to spread your compost and near a convenient water source. Oftentimes, gardeners choose to place the bin in a location where it is hidden from plain view. Keep in mind that bins placed in full sun or ones that are exposed to drying winds will need to be watered more frequently than those that are placed in partial sunlight and protected from winds.
- Choose a bin style. Many structures are available for composting and most make it easy to produce compost. Choose the bin or barrel style that best fits your needs and is priced within your budget. Keep in mind, if you are handy, you can also build your own compost bin. One popular bin style, the tree-chambered bin, is ideal since raw compost is housed in the first bin, partially broken down compost is housed in the second bin, and finished (or cured) compost is housed in the third bin. This makes it easy to keep raw materials separate from finished compost.
- Size matters. Compost piles should ideally be 3 to 5 feet wide and 4 feet high. This size allows the necessary heat to build up within the pile but is not too big to keep aerated with regular turning.
- Fill-er-up! Add a mixture of carbon-rich materials (often called browns) and nitrogen-rich materials (often called greens) to the pile. A good mixture of browns and greens will provide bacteria within the pile the components they need to decompose the organic matter. Although not always necessary, gardeners may also choose to add a little garden soil to the pile to ensure plenty of bacteria are present to start chomping away at raw materials.
- Moisture matters. It is important to keep your pile moist. The level of moisture should resemble a wrung-out sponge. As the pile dries out, hose it down. Make sure you allow your pile to dry out a bit before you add more water so you maintain ideal conditions for the thriving bacteria inside.
- A little air please! Just as moisture matters, so does air! Thriving populations of air loving bacteria (aerobic decomposition) need access to air. Turning your pile regularly will not only ensure more even heat and even decomposition, it will also provide bacteria located in the pile’s center access to air.
- Chop-chop-chop! Keep in mind, smaller pieces of organic matter break down more quickly into finished compost than large chunks. Avoid adding large chunks or materials like branches or other large wood pieces. Some gardeners like to send materials like leaves and small branches through a mulcher before adding it to the compost pile.
- What stinks in here? Avoid adding meat scraps or foods with fat and oil residues to your compost pile. These materials attract rodents and other vermin (and in my house, my dog – ewww)! Partially broken down veggie scraps (that begin to smell) can be buried in the pile to reduce temporary odor carried on these materials. Do not add manure of meat eating animals.
- Decomposition days of summer. Summer is the best time of year from many reasons, including composting. Your pile will compost most rapidly in the summer months. Do not expect rapid decomposition in the winter months.
- Ready-set-go! Composting follows this phrase. You ready your pile, you let it set (decompose), and you go put it in the garden when it is fully composted. How do you know when your compost is ready? You know it is ready when it looks like black gold, is nice and uniform, and it has a nice earthy smell. Basically, when you would be willing to roll around in a pile of it, you know it is ready for your garden. Finished compost should not be excessively hot, should not stink, and should not have recognizable pieces of organic matter in it.
For more tips of composting including a guide for troubleshooting common problems, see the USU Extension fact sheet Backyard Composting in Utah.