|The Art of Composting
by Carlo Morelli
Even a composting neophyte can create top-notch compost. Akin to
cooking, composting is half art, and half science. Awareness of
these basic factors will help you getting started. Just like a
chef demands high quality ingredients, successful composting
needs the best ingredients too. Good materials for composting
include these: grass clippings, leaves, plant stalks, hedge
trimmings, old potting soil, twigs, vegetable scraps, coffee
filters, and tea bags. Bad composting materials include:
diseased plants, weeds with seed heads, invasive weeds, pet
feces, dead animals, bread and grains, meat or fish parts, dairy
products, grease, cooking oil, or oily foods.
To prepare compost, you need organic materials, microorganisms,
air, water, and a small quantity of nitrogen. Organic material
is what you are trying to decompose (see above for Do's and
Don'ts). Microorganisms are tiny forms of plant and animal life,
which break down organic material. A small amount of garden soil
or manure supplies adequate microorganisms. The air, nitrogen,
and water offer an encouraging environment for the
microorganisms to produce your compost. You can add enough
nitrogen to the compost with small amount of nitrogen
fertilizer., which can be purchased at hardware stores or
nurseries. Air is the one ingredient which you can't have too
much of. Too much nitrogen can kill microbes; too much water
causes insufficient air in the pile.
If microorganisms have more surface area to feed off of, the
materials will decompose faster. Chopping your organic materials
with a machete, or using a shredder or lawnmower to shred
materials will help them break down faster.
The compost pile is your oven. Compost piles catch heat created
by the activity of millions of microorganisms. The minimum size
for hot, fast composting is a 3-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot. But
piles wider or taller than 5 feet don't permit enough air to
reach the microorganisms at the center.
Your compost pile's microorganisms work their hardest when the materials have about the moistness of a wrung-out sponge and as many air passages. The air in the pile is usually consumed faster than the moisture, so the pile should be turned or mixed up now and then to add more air; this maintains high temperatures and controls odor. Use a pitchfork, rake, or other garden tool can to turn materials with.