GO GREEN! The Basics of Compositing for Non-gardeners and Gardeners alike!

The  process that creates compost is the natural process through which plants and other organic wastes are broken down. Worms, insects, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms do most of the work that helps to process dead materials.

The Golden Rule of Composting

Composting is a natural process that will pretty much occur no matter what you do.  Even a poor complost heap will eventually break down, so you don’t need to obsess over creating a rapid compost pile.  On the other hand,  a very effectively created compost heap will produce usable compost much, much more quickly and that can help your landscaping and garden significantly.

What are the requirements for composting to occur?

Oxygen, water, some warmth, and a good ratio of carbon-based to nitrogen-based materials are needed for composting to occur.  The good news it that every one of these materials is abundantly available and should be free!

What is the optimal compost bin?

Even though many different compost bins are available, in almost any proce point you can imagine, it really doesn’t matter what you use as long as your container is not too small.  In fact, no container at all is just fine too! Some of the best compost heaps are really just a heap in a corner of the yard.  It is typically a neighborly thing to enclose it with a picket fence or small enclosure to keep your neighbors happy, but that is about the only requirement.

So what do I need to start the composting process?

The insects and microorganisms that do the work of composting will come no matter what you do.   It is the way God made those creatures.  They naturally find the surroundings where they can thrive.  BUT putting out the right combination of nitrogen- and carbon- based materials will give them a daily buffet!

Carbon-based materials to add to your compost should be available everywhere.

These are the brown materials

  • dead grass clippings
  • leaves
  • even shredded cardboard

 Nitrogen-based materials are also widely available!

These are the primarily green materials

  • fruit peels
  • green grass clippings
  • food wastes (avoid adding dairy and meat wastes)

The ideal ratio for your compost is about 30 parts carbon (brown) to 1 part nitrogen (green), but anywhere in that neighborhood will work just fine.

The other two ingredients you will need to ensure a speedy process are water and air.

Because the center of your heap will retain a great deal of water, the compost should not need to be watered very often except during dry spells.

You can introduce Oxygen to your compost pile by turning the compost with a  pitchfork about once a week, or when the compost slows down.

So what happens when you compost?

If you have built your pile with a good carbon to nitrogen ratio (remember that is about 30 to 1) and your pile is sufficiently damp and oxygenated you will notice that the composting process will start immediately.  You will notice that after a while (approximately a day) when the process really takes off the center of your pile will be producing heat — quite often a good amount of heat.   You can decide whether you want to completely compost a batch of waste materials and then start over again or simply add wastes as they become available.  If you are interested in using your compost pile throughout the growing season, perhaps you will want to start with one pile that you work until you have that rich, nutirent soil and have another pile that is your “active waste” pile.  As you use the one, you can turn the other into your “active waste” pile.   When the center of the pile cools, that meants that the process has slowed down and and it’s probably time to turn your pile again with your pitchfork.  That is it.  You simply keep adding and rotating until you have nothing left but “black gold”.

So what does finished compost look like?

When your pile has been turned into “finished compost”  you will find that what remains is a moist, black, sweet-smelling mulch which is approximately the consistency of soggy cardboard. Using most popular composters one gets nature’s potent fertilizer and it can be spread on your flowers, in your garden, on your lawn, and anywhere else you want healthy, strong plants.

So, stop using your trash can for some of your waste – only six weeks in your compost pile can break down more material than six years in a landfill – and the end result is free, natural fertilizer for your efforts!

Here is a good list that I adapted from the website http://www.compostinstructions.com.  This site goes way into depth about composting for those of you who like to obssess!  🙂  We wanted to simply give you a simple approach to composting that nearly anyone can do.

MaterialsCarbon or NitrogenDetails
Alfalfa meal and hay
Algae, seaweed and lake moss
Good source of nutrients and minerals.
Apple pomace (cider press waste)
Ashes (wood, not coal)
Use only wood ashes.  Do not use coal ashes — they can be toxic to plants. Use this sparingly-it works as a pest deterant.
Beverages, kitchen rinse water
Help keep the pile moist, but use this in moderation
Buckwheat straw or hulls
If you have lots of cardboard, just recycle it. Otherwise, shred into small pieces in pile.
Cat litter (unused!)
Cocoa hulls
Coffee grounds (and filters)
Great source of nitrogen and worms love coffee grounds!
Cornstalks, corn cobsThese are a little tricky.  You will need to break them down or shred them and mix well into pile.
Cottonseed hulls
Dog food
Dryer lint
 Make sure you wet this a little before you add it.
Egg shells
These break down very slowly, so make sure to crush these before adding.
Fruit peels (not limes)
Grape pomace (winery waste)
Grass clippings
Make sure the grass clippings are not too wet and mix with dry leaves for best results.
Hair is a good source of nitrogen. Make sure you scatter it around, so it doesn’t clump.
The best kind is hay that is not suitable for livestock and is starting to decay on its own. Make sure it is dry and weathered.
Hedge Clippings
Hops (brewery waste)
Kelp (seaweed)Good source of potassium (perfect for growing potatoes!). Use sparingly.  You can also sprinkle kelp meal in to get your pile cooking.
Leather (leather waste)
Manure from herbivores (cow, horse, pig, sheep, chicken, rabbit)
Nut shells
Oak leaves
Oat straw
Sawdust and wood shavings
Peanut hulls
Peat moss
Pine needles and cones
Tea leaves
Vegetable peels and scraps
Wheat straw

Things you should NOT compost!

Carbon or Nitrogen
Ashes (coal or charcoal)
Coal and charcoal may contain materials that are toxic to plants.
Cat droppings/litter
These may contain disease organisms and should always be avoided for composting.
Colored paper
Dog droppings
Same as cats.
Acidity can kill composting action.
Meat, fat, grease, oils, bones
These things do not break down and it actually can coat materials and “preserve” them. These also tend to attract pests.
Nonbiodegradable materials
Toxic materials

Things that MAY be composted, but only with caution and skill

Bird droppings
Some bird droppings may contain disease or weed seeds….it is really best to avoid these.
Diseased Plants
If you put in diseaded plants you need to make sure your pile gets to at least 135 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days to let it “therma kill” the disease
Milk, yogurt, cheese
May attract pests, so put it in the middle to deep into the pile — OR avoid it altogether
For best results, dry them out until crunchy, then add them to your compost pile….but this may tend to create more weeds when you spread your compost.  I would avoid.
Like diseased plants, you need to make sure that your pile gets hot enough to make sure the grass doesn’t keep growing in your pile.

If you need to purchase top soil, mulch or other landscaping accessories, we recommend Mulder Landscape and Supply on Ravine Road near Nichols.  They have great service and great prices.

Thanks for reading!
Your “GREEN” Kalamazoo neighbors and expert home team
David Veenstra, REALTOR
Jason Veenstra, REALTOR

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