How to make compost

Compost, also known to gardeners as “black gold,” is the stuff that makes soil healthier and helps keep plants stress-free by avoiding insects, disease and nutritional disorders. And best of all you can make your own compost with a few easy-to-find ingredients and a little bit of time.  With the recent interest in rooftop and urban gardening, city-dwellers can get in on the action as well by using composting bins. David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth’s What’s Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?) provides an outline of what you need to get started — So give your stressed-out plants a break and start making some compost, here’s how:

1. Pile up kitchen and garden waste and let it decompose. Be sure that all material you add to compost is pathogen and pest-free. It should also be free of weed seeds, and chemicals of any kind.

2. The pile should be made up of two-thirds “brown” material and one-third “green” material. Brown materials include brown, autumn leaves; straw; shredded paper and cardboard; branches that have been run through a chipper; sawdust from untreated wood; dry pine needles; and similar stuff. Green materials include kitchen waste with no animal products; green leaves; grass clippings; and other stuff. These proportions can be measured by the handful, bucket, or shovelful. It is the proportion that counts. As you build the pile, add 1 part good soil to 3 parts brown/green material mix.

3. Toss the brown, green and soil material together randomly. Old-style compost recipes made much of placing these ingredients in distinct layers. Modern research has shown that random scattering works better.

4. After you have a pile equal to about one wheelbarrow full of material, add one 40-pound bag of chicken manure.

5. Turn the pile over with a shovel or pitchfork about once a week to speed up decomposition.

The bacteria, fungi, and chicken manure breaks down and digests the vegetable matter, turning it into a marvelous, dark, friable material that will bless your garden with its generosity. The process takes time of course. Also be aware that the pile generates heat.

If your climate is cold and wet, cover the pile with a tarp, and recognize that you may not have rich soil for up to a year. In a warm and moist climate, you could have finished soil in a matter of weeks. In a very dry climate, water the pile to keep it moist.

If having a somewhat unsightly pile of compost in your backyard isn’t your style, then composting bins may be a better option. Readily available at most garden centers, you can implement the “three-bin” method to create a constant production of compost. Using the same proportions outlined above, pile material into bin A. When the volume of material reduces by half, shovel it into bin B, and refill bin A with fresh material. When the volume in bin B reduces by half, shovel the material into bin C. Shortly after landing in bin C the compost should be ready to go into the garden.  With this system you’ll have a constant production of compost.

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