If you really want to GO Green, one of the first things is to learn how to make compost. We all eat, so we all can compost. It’s possible to compost even if you live in an apartment, only have a balcony or deck, though naturally if you have a backyard to do your composting, all the better.
Back in the day, when we built compost heaps on our little hobby farm, we built ‘em big. After all, we had plenty of resources – and a back hoe to do all the heavy lifting! We also had cow, pig, and chicken manure – if fact our “secret method’ was that the chickens did most of our composting all winter in their chicken house! But most of us, aren’t looking for a big compost heap, we’d just like to take care of our kitchen and yard waste in a way that:
1. Doesn’t add to the landfills. Food scraps and yard waste (trimmings) make up about ¼ of the garbage in Canada and the U.S., according to environmentalist David Suzuki. He goes on to say in his book, “David Suzuki’s Green Guide” (by David Suzuki and David R. Boyd), “Wherever you live, one of the most useful steps you can take to reduce the amount of trash you generate is to compost food scraps, yard trimmings and even shredded paper…Landfills produce up to 33% of North American methane.”
2. Does add value to our little plot of earth, usually just a small garden that helps to delight and feed our family. The same waste products that rot in landfills adding to the methane gas problem, compost nicely in valuable soil in our backyard…allowing us to build up the quality of the soil which gives us, in turn, healthy nutritious fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as, beautiful flowers, shrubs, and trees that shelter and provide comfort and food for birds and animals, insects and us. On top of all that, we help our communities and set a great example to our children.
Sometimes the thought of building a compost pile is a little overwhelming. First of all we’re not quite sure how to do it. Secondly, we’re not quite sure what ingredients to put in it. And we also know we don’t want to attract rats or mice or other pests.
It’s good to remember that composting is a natural process. There are also many different ways to make compost. And everyone seems to have their own way of making it. So don’t ever feel that you have to make it exactly like somebody else or it just won’t work. With a few simple instructions on how to make compost, I’m sure anything you do will make fine compost.
One of the easiest ways to understand how to make compost is to picture it like a cake with many layers and icing or filling in between. That’s exactly how you build a compost heap. You simply add layers and layers of different materials.
The easiest way to make compost is to dig a shallow pit and fill it with alternating green and brown layers. Chop things out as finely as you can to help the compost decompose faster. In the green layer, add plants, untreated grass clippings, leaves and weeds (pick before they seed). In the brown layer, you would add soil, fertilizer like cow, chicken or sheep manure, and kitchen waste. There are lots of other things you can add, like shredded paper or waste from vacuum cleaner, but for right now we’re just keeping it simple.
Adding in a layer of soil or manure will get things heating up quickly. Now all you have to do for upkeep is to keep everything damp, not soaking, just slightly damp – and turn the pile in two weeks.
For faster composting, build your pile the same way as above with the green and brown layers but build a support around it that lets air get at the material. This way you can build an opening at the bottom of your box that will provide even more air circulation and give you access to the finished compost. Often these 3 sided bins or boxes are made with wire mesh, wood slats or concrete blocks about 4 feet square.
There are many different types of compost bins on the market today. They often don’t take up too much space and are not too unattractive.
For apartment dwellers or people who prefer to have a smaller bin in their home or on their deck, they can use a process called the vermi-composting – and let worms do all the work!
Here are a few extra tips on how to make compost:
1. What not to compost: bones and meat (they attract animals and don’t break down), garden trimmings and grass clippings that have been treated with chemicals, any trimmings from diseased plants or leaves, charcoal briquettes that have been pre-treated to make them light quickly.
2. If you’re using worms to turn your waste into compost, you might not want to add too many citrus peelings. Worms just aren’t that fond of them.
3. If the compost starts to smell, turn it and add some soil.
4. Make your layers about 8 inches thick but not necessarily having each layer made up of all the same material. ‘Mixing it up’ is a good idea!
5. Decide in advance if you want a compost pile that takes a year two to develop or if you want one that you can get finished compost in 3 to 4 weeks. Then build it accordingly. As you probably guessed the one that gives you finished compost in 3 to 4 weeks requires a bit more hands on work from you. The smaller the pieces the quicker they decompose - so if you want your pile to cook up fast then chop up any large fibrous materials as much as you can.
6. When you have a compost bin that you can access and remove finished product from the bottom, then you can add new materials to the top when you have them.
7. Just like cooking a roast the internal temperature of your compost pile is important. We always just stuck our hands into it to make sure that it was hot or at least warm. If you don’t feel any heat than the action has stopped and you need to add more green materials (nitrogen) like grass clippings, fresh manure or kitchen waste. An easy way to test the temperature is to use a compost thermometer.
8. And just like us, compost heaps need water. When you’re learning how to make compost it’s important to keep this in mind. If the compost heap is too wet or too dry the process will slow down or stop. You wanted damp, not dripping – as I was taught, like a wrung out sponge. So if the compost pile is too dry, add some water. If it is too wet, add dry material.
9. Compost piles need air. When we built big compost piles back on our little farm, we stuck long poles, like old broom sticks, into them. We would wiggle them and move them around every so often just to add air and keep things loose. If you’re worried that your compost pile has become compacted, then stick a pole, a pitchfork or even a shovel into it and give it a slight lift in a few places.
These basic instructions will help you learn how to make compost - but we have more information coming that will take you beyond just how to make compost with some specifics about the variations of materials you can use.
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Could we do better job? That's the question being asked by award winning Canadian author and broadcaster, Mark Cullen, who is also the lawn and garden expert for Home Hardware and a member of the Order of Canada.
"May 7-13 is Composting Week across our great nation. This is a perfect time to reawaken your commitment to save the planet and the green world on it. Convert the raw, organic material from the kitchen and the garden into the magic elixir that feeds the earth and all plant life that relies on it for sustenance.
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