For those who enjoy gardening like myself or would like to take up the hobby, the key to growth in any garden situation is healthy soil. Although there are many easy to access options for soil nutrients such as bagged fertilizers, I’ve always preferred the more naturalistic approach; compost.
Compost improves soil fertility, holds water and nutrients more efficiently and improves soil structure. It manages pH levels without the need for added nutrients, produces it’s own macro/micro nutrients and is home for microorganisms which continue to improve soil quality. Compost also has the ability to bind to a variety of pollutants and break them down, helping to decrease waste!
Not only does compost benefit your garden, but also our environment. Recycling has becoming an everyday part of life for many of us, recycling our bottles and cardboard, how ever, we don’t tend to think about recycling food scraps or pet poop. These things are the perfect ingredients for compost that would usually end up in land fill! By recycling our composting ingredients, we are producing less pollutants and a smaller carbon footprint.
The principles of composting are general with four main ingredients to the mix; warmth, air, organic waste and moisture. Each play a key role in balancing the compost.
Organic waste is then split into two categories; dry and green waste. It is important to balance the two are both the nitrogen obtained from green waste and carbon obtained through dry waste are vital for healthy soil.
Dry waste: sawdust, dry leaves, woody/dry weeds, shredded newspaper/cardboard, wood ash and straw.
Green waste: kitchen scraps (not meat/bones), grass clippings, leafy weeds and pet poop.
A compost set up is as easy as It’s ingredients. The first requirement is something to contain the compost ingredients in. This can be an average garbage bins, wooden boxes or a simple pile. It is recommended that the set up be no smaller than 90cm x 90cm x 90cm and no bigger than 150cm x 150cm x 150cm.
The compost layering itself begins with the natural ground itself. If the compost is being produced in a container with a bottom to it, simply add a layer of general soil. Then it is a matter of building up a pile with balanced layers of green and dry waste. Also, adding a layer of soil every now and again to the mix will bring in microorganisms, therefore improving the quality of the compost.
Once you’ve completed the set up, there are important tips to remember. Compost needs to be well aerated, by turning the mixture occasionally with a pitchfork this can be easily achieved. Moisture levels are also important and compost should be damp to touch. If it’s not, simply dampen with a hose, but if too damp, add more dry waste. Don’t be freaked out when the compost pile heats up; perfectly natural and what you want! The heat means the waste is being broken down and everything is doing It’s job. However, a temperature above 71 degrees Celsius could indicate not enough air and dry waste. Ingredients need to be chopped or shredded to decompose properly. Rodents shouldn’t be a problem if you stick to the correct ingredients!
Exciting things to find in your compost are insects and a white cob-web looking material called actinomycete. These critters/microorganisms are nothing to worry about and should be encouraged in the compost!
Compost does involve patience. It will be ready when it smells/feels like soil. In the winter months, composting can be a struggle as it is difficult to provide the warmth the compost needs. Once the compost is ready however, more patients is required if healthy soil is what you are looking for.
Dig in plenty of your prepared compost a couple of weeks before planting. This is important as all the nutrients needed for plant growth require time to break down into the soil, allow 2 weeks for this. Once your plants are up and growing in your new soil, compost can be also used as a mulch around the plants.
Overall, compost produces better soil, which therefore produces better plant outcome. This includes taste for those growing edibles in the garden, so not only will your garden be reeking the benefits, but so too will your taste buds.
So, why not consider composting as a new sustainable living project?