COMPOSTING: IT AIN’T ROCKET SCIENCE

Posted: June 25, 2014 in garden, Rhode Island, Southern New England, Uncategorized
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Many people, even avid gardeners, seem to think that composting is extremely complicated and that it will take up too much of their time. And so they miss out on one of the most important free sources of organic matter for their gardens.
Composting is a win–win in every way imaginable.
Composting allows you to recycle kitchen food scraps. When you consider the fact that about 30% of all landfill waste is food scraps that could have been recycled into compost, you quickly see the value of this process.
Composting saves you trips to the dump and dirty looks from your garbage man when you leave too many bags at the end of your driveway. Why put all those grass and leaf clippings into a landfill when you can transform them into organic material that will nourish your garden plants?
Good composting basically means supplying microbes with the right balance of food so that they can thrive and break down your yard and kitchen waste. Despite what you may read elsewhere, the reality of backyard composting is that you will never get that super-hot pile they talk about in all the composting manuals. But, if you have a pile that cooks reasonably well, and becomes a haven for many happy redworms, you can consider your efforts a success.
My compost bins, with dahlias, cosmos and scarlet runner beans in front.

My compost bins, with dahlias, cosmos and scarlet runner beans in front.

Compost piles are aerobic, meaning they need fresh air to be successful, so it is important to aerate your compost pile once in a while. Simply take a shovel or pitchfork and “fluff” the pile up, mixing the contents. You’ll find that this small amount of maintenance will keep the aerobic microbes happy, and will keep the anaerobic microbes (the ones that don’t require air and cause the compost pile to smell bad) away.
Keep your compost pile out of the full sun. Successful composting requires the pile to be moist, and the summer sun will dry things out very quickly. Semi-shade is a better way to go.
The main types of food for your compost pile, easily split into 2 categories, are green and brown. Green waste is made of fresh plant material from the garden, kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds. They don’t necessarily need to be the color green. The term “green,” in this case, means they contain nitrogen. Avoid weeds because weed seeds can survive the average home composter and will sprout when you return the compost back to your soil the next season. And avoid all animal products (meat, dairy) unless you like rotten smells and animals tearing up your yard.
Brown waste is made of straw, leaves, wood chips, sawdust, newspaper, and even some cardboard. Brown waste tends to be drier than green waste, so it’s a good idea to soak things like newspaper and cardboard before putting it into your compost pile.
Too much green material will cause your compost to take on a not-so-delightful bouquet reminiscent of ammonia because of the excess of nitrogen. Adding a little brown stuff to it and mixing it through will help it stay odor-free.
The end of the season, when the leaves have fallen in my yard, is the only time I use the bagger on my riding lawn mower. (I let the mulched grass clippings go back into the soil the rest of the season.) But in the fall, I bag the grass clippings and leaves together, effectively combining green and brown in a perfect mix that starts to cook in my compost piles almost immediately. The result is some pretty well broken down material by the springtime.
If you’ve got a lot of leaves, most leaf blowers can suck up leaves, too, and they grind them up into fine particles that are worth their weight in gold. Throw them in your compost pile, or even till into your garden soil in the fall.
I keep a metal compost bucket with a lid under the kitchen sink. No need to buy an expensive bucket with a carbon-filter built into the lid from those garden catalogs. Just a good metal or plastic bucket with a lid, and before I dump my vegetable scraps and coffee grinds into it, I line the bottom with a single sheet of newspaper. That’s all I  need to keep the bucket from stinking up the room until I dump it into the compost pile.
There are many composters to choose from, from rotating drums that claim you’ll get compost in 14 days, to simple wooden or wire frames that hold the pile in check. Use what works best for you. I have a system of 3 bins made from wooden slats. When I fill one, I start on the next. Other than aerating them once in a while, I don’t mess with them. It takes about a year, but at the end of a long winter, I usually have some pretty nice compost to use in the springtime garden.
A word about manure in your garden: You should never use raw manure directly in your garden. You don’t want raw parasite-laden manure touching or splashing up onto your vegetables. If you get a supply of fresh horse or cow manure, mix it into your garden in the fall after you’ve harvested all of your veggies. It will winter over and be ready to make your garden happy the next season. Or let it sit in your compost bin for a year before using it. Though some will rave about the benefits of chicken manure, the fact is it harbors salmonella, which takes a year or two to go away. I won’t use it.
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