Compost is something every organic gardener should be involved with.
If you have been thinking abut it but have been putting off..., NOW is the time to get with the program.
It is a fairly simple concept and you can make it from kitchen waste, leaves and other organic waste that you would end up sending to the landfill.
Although the principle is the same, most everyone has there own particular style. You can choose to do in a pit out behind the barn or in an ornate bin at the back of your garden.
It can be a prefabricated unit that you have purchased at a local gardening supply store or made out of old cinder blocks, bricks or wood that you may already have laying around.
There is no right or wrong choice, it is only a matter of personal preference and budget. But the only way you are going to get the benefit is if you actually do it.
What is Compost?
It is the end result of organic material that has been decomposed by aerobic bacteria. It breaks down waste into form that is readily available for your plants. It is a natural fertilizer, soil conditioner and great source of humus.
It also helps to repopulate the soil with diverse species of microorganisms vital for plant growth and reproduction. It is also another word for "organic matter".
Every organic gardening book worth it's salt will at some point state that you are going to need to add it on a regular basis.
The reason why is because your plants are using it up! In order to build and maintain optimum health of the soil, you are going to have to add some kind of organic matter on a regular basis.
The first time most people hear those words is after getting the results of their soil test and wonder how they are going to raise a low organic matter level.
No matter what the crop is that you are growing, from azaleas to zuchinni, it is going to deplete the soil of nutrients, minerals and trace elements. These must be replaced or the soil will deteriorate until it is dead and lifeless. This is where the term "Farmed-Out" originated.
With a little thought and a plan you can easily make your own. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of well intentioned people throw in the towel.
Make your own compost
Just get started. At first you may have to buy a retail product to get the ball rolling. But in time you will have learned to make your own with what you would normally throw in the trash.
A word of caution!
Beware of amending your soil with lifeless "soil mixes". These are typically made with waste materials (ie; ground-up pallets) and toxic chemicals!
Unless you like the thought of that stay away from the stuff being sold in bulk stores. No one knows exactly what's in the bag, where it came from, or even when it was packaged.
That is why it is so cheap! You get what you pay for is especially accurate in this case.
I suggest calling your local nursery and asking what they carry along the lines of compost. Cotton Burr Compost can typically be found at most garden centers.
Locally made amendments are always going to be cheaper because of freight costs and typically have higher populations of micro-organisms because they are fresher. If you call first you will save time and aggravation.
There are a few things to bear in mind when starting out. The main thing is aeration. The process is accomplished by aerobic microorganisms that break down organic materials and cause decomposition.(aerobic - meaning that they need air to survive.)
It is generally recommended to turn you pile once a week or so using a shovel or pitchfork. This helps keep the pile supplied with oxygen so that the process remains active and so the pile from going rancid.
Your pile needs to be kept moist, but not soaked!
When you first put your pile together you will have to water it with a hose or watering can because it is likely to be on the dry side. Keyword here is "moist" not water logged.
The other thing you need to be aware of is that your pile needs to have both green waste (high in nitrogen) and brown waste (high in carbon)
Some common examples of green waste are fresh cut grass clippings and weeds, coffee grounds and kitchen scraps such as potato peelings.
Examples of brown waste include shredded newspaper or cardboard, saw dust and wood chips or shavings. It is as simple as that.
I recommend visiting my friends over at CompostJunkie.com for some excellent detailed information that will assist you understanding the ratio of brown waste (carbon) and green waste (nitrogen)to use.
Remember the motto for organic gardening "It is a process - Not an event"
The same applies for your pile. It will take several months for your pile to break down to a uniform consistency to be ready to mix with your soil.
After becoming familiar with how your pile works you may very well be able to get two harvests. One that you add to your soil in the Spring and another that you can add in the Fall after harvest.
Once you see how well your organic garden responds you will never be without it again.
If you are limited on space to put a compost pile, can't buy any locally or just don't have the time to wait, Bokashi may be your best alternative.
Bokashi compost can be made in a 5 gallon bucket and be ready for your soil in just a few weeks. It is the primary method that I now use to produce quantities of organic matter for my raised beds and containers.