There’s more to composting than just making a pile of kitchen scraps, grass clippings, straw, leaves and other organic materials. A compost heap is a universe that hosts an ecosystem of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, sugars and enzymes) and nutrients and other organisms like earthworms, millipedes and bugs. But we don’t see the hidden aspects of compost, only the fine black gold which is the finished product and its many benefits. Nevertheless, if there is just ONE thing you do to improve your garden this year or next growing season, it is to start a compost pile.
Creating compost is easy and the benefits are simply innumerable. By composting, you turn organic matter into a soil conditioner. Nutrients from the ingredients are not lost, they are simply moved around and turned into food that is readily available to plants. By composting, you also do your part in supporting the ecology plus it is a cheap, simple and fail-proof method of revitalizing your garden soil for better planting and growth.
There are two main approaches to composting: hot and cold composting.
Cold composting is something of a misnomer since even an untended ‘cold’ compost will heat up to some extent. This method is simply the passive (or lazy) way of composting while the other, hot composting, is the active way of creating beneficial humus.
Hot composting is the quickest way to produce rich garden humus. It is called ‘hot’ because when done right, it can reach a temperature of 160°F (140°F is best).
A hot compost pile can destroy weed seeds and disease-causing organisms.
In order for a compost pile to heat up, it should be well-orchestrated for it to achieve the ideal environment to cook. The size of the pile, the materials added to it, layer arrangements and moisture are all key to achieving the desired results.
You know you have built your compost pile correctly if it can maintain its temperature for several days to longer than a week. Turn the pile and add water if the temperature starts to drop or if the temperature goes over 160°F.
Maintaining a hot compost pile requires more effort from the gardener but it could produce humus more quickly. You can have the finished product in just a few weeks or months.
There are only two steps to cold composting and that involves:
- Putting organic scraps in a pile
With this method of composting, you can simply add ingredients to it as you get them. The size of the particles as well as the type of materials you add will play a role on how long your compost will finish.
Chop materials into smaller particles for microorganisms to break these down faster. Be careful not to put in weeds because these could take roots and use up the nutrients in the forming compost.
The cooler temperature of cold compost tends to attract disease pathogens which can later be spread on your garden so this is a major disadvantage.
You can minimize the risk of weed seeds and disease pathogens by being careful about what you add in the pile.
You can add…
- dry goods (crackers, flour, spices)
- pasta (cooked or uncooked)
- shredded paper/newspaper
- coffee grounds and tea bags
- dog and cat waste
- human waste
It could take up to a year or two before your compost is ready with this method.