What Should You Compost for a Successful Garden?
As you’ve learned so far in this article series, there’s no doubt that composting is a must for any self-respected gardener or anyone who cares about the environment.
By now you know that composting works wonders to your garden patch. You know composting is the process of decomposing organic wastes, which can be household wastes or plant remains or a mixture of both, and making them into a dark, earthy, and loose or crumbly substance.
Because compost is rich in minerals which most plants need, compost can be made to replace your garden soil. Most often, however, gardeners use compost to enrich their garden soil. When compost is added the soil, the overall structure of the soil improved allowing it to hold more water and letting air circulate within the soil.
You’ve made a great choice for your health in the fruits and vegetables you harvest. Good for you and mother earth! Now you need to make some decisions on which process of composting you’ll use and what equipment you’ll need.
Contrary to some of your past perceptions, you know now that compost is quite easy to make and is especially easy to use. But for first timers, you’ll need a plan for creating your first compost pile.
You need to understand what materials we could make into a compost and which ones we cannot. We have been told that composting can be done with any organic material. Well, in theory that may be true, however, in real life it may not be always so.
What to Compost
There are a several organic materials that should not be included in the compost pile unless you know how to do it properly while there are other materials that should not even be attempted even by the experts. To compost or not to compost, that is indeed the question. And let’s see if we can provide the answers.
For home composters like you and me, we have a number of materials available inside our own home and even our own backyard. The big, industrial composters have a little advantage over us. They can compost more materials than us because they have the facilities to divert, mask, or absorb the odor that may come out from composting a lot of organic stuff. We don’t have the same luxury. We don’t want our neighbors organizing a protest rally against our composting in our own backyard, now do we?
Don’t let this worry you though, there are still a lot of materials that we could include in our compost pile. Let’s begin with something our front lawn is always dying to dispose of: excess grass. Yep, grass clippings from our lawn can be put to better use like for the compost file in our backyard. In situations where you have hay instead of grass clippings, that could work as well.
Using hay for composting is often practiced by farmers. You will find that farmers are more than willing to dispose of that hay. And when it comes to using hay for composting, be sure to pick the greener ones. Green hay means it still has a lot of nitrogen in it.
Others include kitchen wastes such as vegetable peels, fruit rinds, tea bags, eggshells and coffee grounds. These substances contain high levels of nitrogen. Make sure, however, to keep pests away from your kitchen wastes. Some would prefer to prepare a compost bin intended for their kitchen wastes. Others would prefer burying these wastes in eight inches of soil. And because they precisely attract pests, it would be best to stay avoid including scraps of meat, milk products and left over bones.
What NOT to Compost
Wood chips, wood shaving, saw dusts, paper, and other wood products are generally good to include in your compost pile. However, be sure to stay away from chemically-treated wood products. Arsenic is one of the highly toxic chemicals that is sometimes used to treat wood. Using sawdust from such treated wood products is a no-no since the chemical will leak into the soil causing more harm than good.
Speaking of no-nos, there are other things that you should not include in your compost. Plants that died due to a disease should not be included. There is still a possibility that the disease the caused the death of the plants might infect your future plants.
And similarly, human, dog and cat wastes are not uses as composting materials as well precisely because they contain organisms that could cause disease. Such disease might cause people to be sick or might affect your plants.
Even though grasses can be used for composting, it would be best to avoid weeds like morning glory, ivy, sheep, and kinds of grasses that could grow in your compost pile. The weeds seeds also can survive the composting pile which can be carried to your new garden.
Selecting the right materials will determine how successful your first compost pile will be.
I suggest making your own compost bin to make everything confined to one place. You will avoid making a mess in your backyard if you do so. Plus, temperature and moisture can also be regulated if you construct a compost bin but allow the organic materials to be composted touch the soil. You need to allow your earthworm buddies and other organic microbes help out in the decomposing process.
“Greens” and “Browns”
“Greens” and “browns” are nicknames which are used to refer to the organic materials used in creating compost. The major differences between these two elements are not so much on the colors of the organic matter themselves but rather on their basic components. The Greens are organic materials rich in nitrogen or protein. Meanwhile, Browns are those organic matters that have high carbon or carbohydrates contents.
Although, almost all organic materials could go into your compost pile, a good combination of “greens” and “browns” would be better. For example, “green” nitrogen-rich organic matter like fresh grass, leaves, and your scraps in your kitchen need to be balanced with “brown” organic matter that contains a lot of carbon such as those dried leaves on your backyard, straw and, of course, wood chips or shavings.
Although leaves come in green, brown, red, etc. colors, they are classified as Browns. Leaves are high in carbon. The evergreen leaves for example have higher carbon contents than any other leaves. However, there is always an exception. Oak tree leaves do not fall under the Greens classification. Oak leaves contain high amounts of nitrogen which makes them fall under the Greens category.
Other examples of Greens include animal wastes (non-pet), grass clippings, and those left over food from your kitchen. AS long as you don’t use harmful chemicals like inorganic fertilizers and pesticides on your grass, then the use of grass clippings I is okay. Meanwhile, papers, wood chippings, sawdust, bark mulches and other wood products are most often than not fall under the Browns classification.
Sugar products are also classified under Browns. These include molasses, syrups, sugar and carbonated drinks. You could use these sugar products to activate or increase the activities of microbes in your compost pile.
Some other Greens include vegetable and fruit wastes, eggshells, as well as coffee grounds, filters, and teabags. For the Browns, they have hay, straw, and cornstalks. Pine needles fall also under the Browns category. However, it is suggested that using too much pine needles on the compost pile will give the Browns too much of an advantage.
Imagine yourself as a chef of a fancy restaurant. To cook a delicious meal, you carefully measure the ingredients and combine them to create wonderful dishes. The same can be said when creating composts. This time, however, instead of the people in the restaurant as your customers, you will be answering the needs of your plants. And just like cooking, you are given the task of putting together in equal amounts the “greens” and “browns” of composting.
Because of their high nitrogen and protein contents, Greens allow microorganisms in composts to grow and multiply. Also, the Green components generate heat in compost piles. The Brown elements on the other hand contain the energy that most soil organisms need. Furthermore, because of their high carbon contents, the Browns function as a big air filter, absorbing the bad odors that emanates from the compost pile. The carbons also help prevent organic nitrogen from escaping and also aids in the faster formation of humus from the compost.
In case you’re stumped whether an organic waste or material belongs to the Greens or Browns variety, one of the easiest way to test is to wet the material. If you find the material to stink after a few days then it belongs to the Greens variety. Again, remember not to be fooled by color.
Once can achieve a successful compost with the correct ratio of Brown and Green components. Ideally, a “Browns” and “Greens” of composting ratio of 3:1 would ensure a successful compost.
This means, you will have three parts or the pile made of components high in carbon Browns and one part of it made up of nitrogen-rich ingredients Greens.
A good combination of “greens” and “browns” can dictate how fast you will have a finished compost. Admittedly, you will have an edge in this area if you have piled up your experience in compost making. Why? Well, for starters you would probably have timed how fast the final compost is created from the different proportions of “greens” and “browns”.
Some, however, would suggest that the best proportion would be 25 percent of your compost pile is made of “browns” and 1 percent is made of “greens.” Take note that if you have a large part made up of “browns” the compost pile will decompose rather slowly. On the other hand, having too much “greens” on the pile could cause some serious smell.
Other elements that you should always consider when making compost are the air and the amount of water your pile will need. It is best to keep your compost pile damp. This will help in the decomposing process. Air is also needed so make sure your pile is properly aerated. If you do observe that no air is coming in, just turn over your pile. Observe and continuously aerate your pile every until you can already “harvest” the fruits of your labor.
Now that you understand what to compost, in the next article we dive into the details of different composting methods.