In soft, warm bosom of a decaying compost heap, a transformation from life to death and back again is taking place. Life is leaving living plants of yesterday, but in their death these leaves and stalks pass on their vitality to coming generations of future seasons. Here in dank, moldy pile wheel of life is turning.
Compost is more than a fertilizer or a healing agent for soil's wounds. It is a symbol of continuing life. Nature herself made compost before man first walked earth and before first dinosaur lifted its head above primeval swamp. Leaves falling to forest floor and slowing moldering are composting. The dead grass of meadow seared by winter's frost is being composted by dampness of earth beneath. Birds, insects and animals contribute their bodies to this vast and continuing soil rebuilding program of nature.
The compost heap in your garden is an intensified version of this process of death and rebuilding which is going on almost everywhere in nature. In course of running a garden, there is always an accumulation of organic waste of different sorts - leaves, grass clippings, weeds, twigs - and since time immemorial gardeners have been accumulating this material in piles, eventually to spread it back on soil as rich, dark humus.
The Purpose of Composting:
Gardening and farming disrupt natural pattern of return of plant matter to earth. Compost is link between modern agriculture and nature's own method of building soil fertility.
In addition to returning rotting vegetable material to soil, there are two major reasons for making compost:
- to render certain materials such as manure and garbage pleasant to handle
- to increase nitrogen content of low-nitrogen materials such as sawdust, straw and corncobs
The high heat of composting rapidly "cooks" smell out of manure and garden waste. This is a significant gain because gardeners are often reluctant to use those materials "fresh".
The composting process also increases nitrogen content of pile. Microorganisms "burn off" much of carbon, reducing cubic bulk of heap but correspondingly increasing its nitrogen portion.
Organic matter is valuable to soil only while it is decaying. Even finished compost is actually only partly decayed. It continues to break down in soil, providing food for increasing populations of microorganisms upon which your plant health depends. Pound per pound (kg per kg) compost is finest soil conditioner to be had.
How To Make Compost
Making compost is not difficult and can be easily done at home. Essentially, basic methods call for layering natural ingredients in heaps in mixed proportions, providing necessary air and moisture and turning heaps to provide bacterial action on all parts of heap.
Just about any organic matter can be used. Weeds, fruit and vegetable peelings, grass, garden clippings, dead flowers, sawdust, woodchips, coffee wastes, nutshells, shredded leaves, and more can all be used provided they are chemical, pesticide and herbicide free. Also, do not use feces, or dead animals. In short, think to yourself, "Do I really want to eat this?"
Compost can be made either in open piles or in bins. Piles are more easily turned, but bins have a better appearance in garden. Bins also have advantage of better moisture and temperature control. Personally, I have found beginning with a pit in garden seems to work best, as it attracts earthworms to help with breakdown of materials, plus you can turn it easily.
1. Whichever method you choose, select a sunny spot and begin by putting down a 6 inch layer of plant wastes such as spoiled hay, straw, sawdust, plant leaves (shredding them first helps) garden clippings, or wood chips
2. Add a 2 inch layer of manure and bedding
3. Follow with a layer of topsoil, approximately 1/8 inch thick. Unrine-impregnated topsoil is particularly valuable but find out what animals have been eating as hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals etc, will end up in your soil and then in your food.
4. On top of this layer of soil spread a sprinkling of lime, phosphate, bone meal, rock, granite dust, or wood ashes to increase mineral content of heap. Lime is not added if an acid compost is wanted.