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Cheap and Easy Composting
4/3/2012  •  Comment
By HannahW

Composting Action

I enjoy converting my kitchen and yard waste into nutrient-rich compost for my garden.  I’ve been able to produce all that I need without paying for tumblers or special equipment or following any very scientific regimen.

Books say that compost should contain about 2/3 materials high in carbon (like hay, straw and leaves) and 1/3 materials high in nitrogen (like fresh grass clippings, weeds, and food scraps).  I don’t measure what I add, but I keep layering in different types of material.

If the pile is slow to decompose I know it needs either more water or more nitrogen-rich materials.  If it stinks I know it’s either soaked by excessive rain or in need of more carbon-rich material.  I always season a new pile with few shovelfuls of finished compost, which is full of organisms that speed up decomposition.

I never use parasite-prone pig or pet manure, rodent-attracting meat scraps, or weed killer-treated,  plant-killing lawn clippings.  Obviously, good clean compost is what I’m after for food crops.

I make three-sided bins from pallets to contain my compost while it cures. Some people use chicken-wire sides.  It helps to have at least two adjacent bins so that you can turn the pile.

Turning the pile--taking everything out of one bin and piling it into the adjacent bin--adds oxy-gen to accelerate decomposition, lets me check how my carbon/nitrogen balance is working out, and discourages rodents from moving into my pile.  I turn compost at least every other week; it breaks down faster when I get to it weekly.

Finished compost looks and feels like soft, loose, dark-colored soil.  It doesn’t stink.  Added to garden soil, it adds nutrients, balances pH, helps soil retain moisture, and attracts earthworms and other beneficials.

The Cornell Waste Management Institute offers a well-organzed, detail-packed introduction to composting for small-scale gardeners, including keeping your compost healthy and safe for using to grow food.

Tags: gardening, , compost, composting, garden safety, fertilizer, environment, Cornell