What is Composting?
Composting is recycling your kitchen waste and lawn trimmings and turning them into a valuable resource for your garden or houseplants. This is done by speeding up the process that the materials you use to compost go through on their own – decomposition.
Compost is not soil. It is a common misconception that the end-result of composting is the dirt that you find in the ground. It is a substance that acts as a fertilizer (enriching the soil) to grow hardier and healthier plants.
Before you begin composting there are choices to be made – what type of container and style suits your project, what you will be putting into your compost bin, and the location of your bin. But regardless of these decisions, how you convert your waste into compost happens the same way. It is a breakdown of waste materials as they are digested by microbes (bacteria and fungi).
The microbes are the workers of the composting equation. They need air, water, and food to do their job and it is up to you to supply it to them in the right amounts. If you have heard that having a compost bin or pile creates a foul odor it is most likely the result of not enough air circulating throughout the waste material. Without air, the material will still breakdown but it will be done by anaerobic microbes (organisms that do not need oxygen) as opposed to aerobic (ones that need oxygen). So if you do have an unpleasant smell coming from your compost bin or pile you can rotate the material to let in more air or add a substance to create more room for the air to circulate. Wood chips or hay are good for this.
Composting is good for the environment and your garden – it eliminates the amount of waste you throw away and enriches the soil your plants grow in.
Besides a free and nutrient rich fertilizer for your soil and plants there are many other benefits to starting compost in your yard. A few of the benefits of composting are listed below.
1) You can reduce or eliminate weeds in your garden by using compost as it prevents weed seeds from sprouting and prospering. This is a natural alternative to pesticides.
2) Mature compost material has been used to stop or prevent erosion in certain areas. The binding capability in the compost can keep the soil in place and prevent dangerous drop-offs.
3) Reducing the amount of organic material that goes to a dump unnecessarily – in turn this reduces the amount of methane gas a dump creates during decomposition.
4) In wetlands areas that are in trouble, compost has been used to revitalize the soil and surrounding plant life.
5) Healthier plants, compost material can prevent your plants from contracting diseases that kill or spread to the rest of the crop or garden.
6) Can create a stable and healthier pH balance in your soil.
7) If your soil is overly dry (sandy), adding compost to the soil and thoroughly mixing can help the sandy dirt retain more water keeping it moist.
8) If your soil is clay-like, you can make the dirt easier to work with and less dense by adding mature compost.
9) Provides important nutrients and micronutrients to the soil and plants.
10) Increases the temperature of the soil creating a conducive environment for plant growth and health.
This is just a few of the important benefits that can be derived from using compost. It helps the environment, your garden, your plants and the planet. The small amount of time that it takes to set-up and maintain a compost bin or pile is well worth the time and effort.
Cold or Hot Composting
The heat that is generated from the breaking down of organic matter into compost is known as hot composting. There is also cold composting, it doesn’t take as much of a commitment from you to upkeep or manage but it does take quite a bit longer to yield results.
Hot (or active) composting uses microbes to breakdown the matter. Some experts will recommend you inoculate the compost with live organisms purchased from a gardening supply store in order to get the process started. While others will recommend adding in healthy top soil as it also contains live organisms that will convert your organic matter into compost material. Either way, once the process is started your compost pile will generate heat. You should tend or check on your pile every second day to ensure good air circulation is maintained and that the right level of moisture is kept.
If you do not have the desire or time to maintain a regular compost bin, starting a cold compost (or slow compost) may suit you better. In cold compost, you are only using your yard waste and grass clippings instead of a combination of outdoor material with your kitchen scraps. All that is required of you is to pile your leaves and grass clippings into a pile and wait. The process is slow and long – it will not yield usable compost for up to one year. Be careful not to put in any weeds or other undesirable plants, as there is no heat they will survive the composting process and can grow again when you use the finished material.
If you generate quite a bit of yard waste and it is too much to include in your regular compost bin consider using both methods. You can have the best of both composting methods.
Seasonal Considerations for Composting
Most composting is done in the spring and summer months. The reason is that heat is such an important element to the process. Even though the compost process itself generates heat, the warmth from the weather certainly helps everything along.
Most compost goes dormant in the winter months and start-up again with the spring thaw and warmer temperatures. But if you live in a milder climate that does not get harsh winters, there is a way to continue to compost during the winter months.
You can create an insulated compost bin. Using a plastic garbage can dig a hole big and deep enough to put at least six inches of the can underground. Use a natural insulating material such as straw and pack it around the base and up the sides of the can. Continue to compost as you would at any other time of the year.
Even though this method will still work in the winter months, the speed at which the material will decompose will still be slowed down. Winter composting will allow you to continue recycling your kitchen scraps throughout the colder months and you may even have compost at the beginning of spring to use in your garden.
The spring and fall are the best times to collect leaves to start a new compost bin. In the spring, the leaves you collect have already started to decompose as they stayed wet and insulated throughout the winter. It doesn’t matter though if you collect your leaves in either season – they are the perfect base for a new compost pile. If you are using dry leaves from the fall, consider putting them through a chipper of some kind. If they are smaller and already cut up it will aid in the whole composting system.