Compost (part 2)
Compost – Part 2 of 2
Last week we learned a little bit of the science behind compost and now that you’re up to speed, let’s take a look at how you can integrate this invaluable garden gold into your own yard.
You’re going to need a little space – whatever you can donate to the cause. There are no real rules behind this part.
Then choose the best location – sunny, well-drained, preferably close to the door of your house to boost composting motivation. Keep a small bin in the house too for kitchen scraps, emptying it when it gets full.
Finally, choose your type. If you live in the city, I highly suggest you choose a bin that has a tight-fitting lid to keep out hungry critters (skunks, raccoons, squirrels, mice). You can also use a pile – a shallowly dug hole that you just start filling with material.
As I said last week, composters are the landfill alternative for organic material. These materials are plant-based (as opposed to meat-based) and will break down “cleanly” rather than rotting, smelling, and attracting unwanted guests.
So much of the material you may throw away now can be put into a composter. Here’s a bit of a break down as to what each of these components adds to the composter.
Kitchen scraps: these add nitrogen and liquid
Leaves: add carbon and facilitate air circulation (best to run these over with the lawn mower first)
Woody materials: add carbon and help with air circulation (be sure to chip woody materials as this increases surface area and promotes rapid decomposition)
Grass clippings: nitrogen
Garden materials: add nitrogen
You will want to have a ratio of about 25 parts woody material/leaves to 1 part kitchen scraps/grass clippings. In other words, a 25:1 ratio of carbon: nitrogen. This ratio is ideal for rapid decomposition but don’t fret if you don’t end up with this, it’s not an exact science. Essentially, this breaks down to 2 parts nitrogen-based to 1 part carbon based. Yes, that’s right, it’s backwards but it all has to do with chemical composition.
There are some plant materials that shouldn’t go into the composter:
Oak leaves: the thick, leathery texture doesn’t break down well
Black walnut leaves: the tree produces juglone (a chemical that hinders the growth of other plants and survives the composting process)
Poison anything: including sumac, ivy, and oak
What about weeds?
In a perfect compost situation, the materials within your bin or pile will heat up to above 65°C, killing the weeds in the process so there is no worry there. To be on the safe side, it’s best to compost weeds before they have gone to seed (i.e. while your dandelions are still yellow) and leave out anything with an obnoxiously persistent root system (Canada thistle, for example).
If you are unsure whether or not it should go into your composter, do a little research first. A two minute internet search could save you hours of frustration later.