Good, fertile soil is like black gold to gardeners. It is invaluable resource that, in many places across the U.S, is unfortunately hard to find. Regular applications of fertilizer can help add nutrients to nutrient-poor soil, but, for money-conscious gardeners, there is a cheaper, all-natural solution that can be made right at home.
Composting isn’t an invention of the modern, eco-conscious age; it has been made and utilized by farmers for centuries. When added to clay or sandy soil, it improves the soil’s water-retention and gives seedlings a nutrient-rich feast. In some climates, it is one of the only ways to sustain a bountiful harvest. Now, many homeowners have begun their own compost piles in hopes of being able to turn trash into a useful and money-saving resource.
What is Compost?
Compost, most simply, is decomposed organic material like leaves, twigs, and fruit and vegetable scraps. In nature, dead organic material is constantly being broken down and recycled by fungi, insects, and animals. The product of this recycling is rich, nutrient-dense soil that can be used to create new life. Building your own compost pile recreates this process by turning your trash (banana peels, egg shells, dead leaves) into soil that can then be used in your garden.
Where Do I Keep Compost?
Out in the garden is probably your best bet. You can leave it piled, but it looks more contained when put into something. Your container should be at least 3ft by 3ft to allow for enough sifting room. You can easily build a container out of wood, re-purpose a Tupperware bin into one, or buy one at almost any garden store.
How Do I Make Compost?
To start, you’re going to need organic material, oxygen, moisture, and bacteria. In this case, organic matter means trash, but not just any kind of trash. You want to include a mix of brown organic material (manure, dead leaves, shredded paper) and green organic material (grass, fruit rinds, coffee grounds). You want to have approximately equal parts of both, or more of the brown material if you want to speed up the process. And, remember, the smaller the organic material is, the faster it will decompose.
Tip: NEVER compost with anything containing meat, fat, oil, grease, or dairy products. This will turn your compost pile into a putrid mess!
Moisture is essential to the decomposition process. Your compost should have a moisture level similar to that of a damp sponge. If your compost gets dry, add some water until moisture levels are at where you want them to be. If the compost gets too wet, dry it out by mixing it up or adding more dry brown organic material.
Oxygen also aids the decomposition process. To oxygenate your compost, turn the pile occasionally (every two weeks or so) to break it up. The center of the pile will heat up as decomposition occurs; wait until the center cools to turn your compost, or else you may interrupt the decomposition process prematurely.
Bacteria will naturally be produced as the organic material rots. These bacteria will do most of the labor in the decomposition process, breaking down and recycling nutrients. Some composters chose to add earth worms to their pile to speed up decomposition. Earth worms make fast work of trash, and they can help cut down on the cloyingly sweet smell that compost bins tend to produce when they are hot (in the middle of the decomposition process).
When Will My Compost be Ready?
This questions depends on a number of factors: how large the compost pile is, what kinds of materials are in there, how many times the pile has been turned, and what kind of bacteria are at work. Most piles are between 27-125 cubic feet. Compost piles of this size are generally ready to use in about three months, which makes a compost bin the perfect summer or spring project! When it is ready, you can use it as you would mulch or fertilizer on beds and grass.
Finished “Black Gold”