Composting was a relatively unknown word years ago. Today, when we prepare our salads or clean and prepare garden vegetables, we know that throwing away what is inedible is unacceptable.
Canadians’ composting behavior has increased. In 2011, 61 percent of Canadians participated in some form of composting. 45 percent of all households stated that they compost kitchen waste and 68 percent of households with lawn or garden stated that they compost garden waste. Not only does composting extend the life of the current landfill, it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions because organic material is not broken down in the landfill.
Compost is the dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling material that is the product of aerobically decomposed organic matter. In other words, rotten (or recycled) plant material that will make a great additive to your garden. It greatly improves the structure and ability of plants to hold and provide nutrients. Compost is made from green waste like leaves, shredded twigs, and kitchen scraps that you get from eating fresh healthy plants as part of your diet.
Composting is also a great way to recycle leaves and other garden waste that we may not consume as food. Instead of paying a company to remove leaves, you can compost those leaves and bring the nutrients back into your garden and improve soil fertility. Instead of buying peat moss, save money and make your own compost.
It’s not difficult to compost as the process only involves four main components: organics, moisture, oxygen, and bacteria. Organic compost material should be a mixture of brown organic material (dead leaves, twigs) and green organic material (lawn clippings, fruit bowls, etc.). Brown materials provide carbon while green materials provide nitrogen. The best ratio is one part green to one part brown material. Chopping, chopping, or mowing these materials into smaller pieces speeds up the composting process by increasing the surface area of the compost.
Moisture is necessary for compost to be made. Compost should be comparable to the wetness of a wrung-out sponge. If your compost heap / heap is too dry, it will not rot and the dry material will slowly decompose. Add water during dry periods or when adding large amounts of brown organic matter. If the pile is too wet, flip the pile and mix the materials. Another option is to add dry, brown organic materials.
Composting is an aerobic process or a rotting process that takes place in the presence of air. If your compost smells bad, anaerobic rot may be occurring. Oxygen is needed to help the bacteria break down plant material. To add oxygen, you need to rotate the compost heap so that materials on the edges are brought into the center of the heap. Turning the pile is important for complete composting and odor control.
Bacteria and other microorganisms are the real workers in the composting process. With the addition of organic material, water and oxygen, the bacteria already present break down the plant material into useful compost for the garden. As the bacteria break down the material, they release heat that is concentrated in the center of the pile. You can also add layers of soil or ready-made compost to provide more bacteria and speed up the composting process. Commercial starters are available, but not necessary, for compost heaps that have the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio.
Check out next week to learn more about the uses of compost and vermicomposting. Until then, we hope that your compost is always sweet and available in large quantities.
Hanbidge is the leading gardener at Orchid Horticulture. Find us at www.orchidhort.com; by email to [email protected]; on Facebook @orchidhort and on Instagram under #orchidhort.
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