BUT... Not all compost is created equal!
Leaves vs. grass: Leaves are from trees with deep roots. These roots extend 20-30 feet!they can often reach nutrients that are lost on the surface due to leaching, and are otherwise void from grass clippings which have shallow roots.
Variety is the spice of life: When it comes to a nutrient rich compost, having a wide variety of inputs is best. Leaves have lots of trace minerals, but lack nitrogen. Grass clippings have lots of nitrogen, but lack carbon or trace minerals. Mix it up and add things like eggshells and kitchen scraps too!
Bacteria vs. Fungi
Annuals benefit from a bacterially dominated compost, the bacteria source nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil. Bacterially dominated compost is achieved through hot composting.
perennials benefit from a fungally dominated compost. Fungi like mycorrhizae mine nutrients for the plant from the soil and increase the root mass. Fungally dominated compost is achieved through cold composting. Think leaves sitting on a forest floor!
Quick and "dirty" Guide to making great compost
Choose a Compost Bin or Pile:
- You can use a compost bin, a designated area in your yard, or a pile to create compost. Bins help contain the compost and maintain a neater appearance.
Balance Carbon and Nitrogen:
- Composting is often described as a balance between "browns" (carbon-rich materials) and "greens" (nitrogen-rich materials).
- Browns include items like dried leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, and cardboard.
- Greens include kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds), grass clippings, and fresh garden waste.
- Aim for a C:N (carbon-to-nitrogen) ratio of roughly 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
Chop or Shred Materials:
- Smaller pieces of organic matter break down more quickly. Use a shredder or chop materials into smaller bits to speed up decomposition.
- Alternate layers of browns and greens to maintain the carbon-to-nitrogen balance. Start with a layer of browns at the bottom.
- Keep the compost pile consistently moist, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Water as needed to prevent it from drying out or becoming waterlogged.
Turn the Compost:
- Regularly turn or aerate the compost pile to provide oxygen to decomposing microorganisms. Turning the pile also helps distribute moisture and speed up decomposition.
Cover or Enclose the Pile:
- Covering the compost pile with a lid or using a closed bin can help regulate temperature, retain moisture, and deter pests.
- Composting generates heat as organic matter breaks down. A compost pile can heat up to 130-160°F (54-71°C) when active. This heat kills weed seeds and pathogens, helping to create safe compost.
Avoid Adding Certain Materials:
- Do not compost diseased plant materials, meat, dairy, oils, pet waste, or treated wood. These items can introduce pests or pathogens.
Patience is Key:
- Composting takes time, typically several months to a year, depending on various factors like the size of the pile, materials used, and environmental conditions.
Harvest the Compost:
- Once the compost is dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling, it's ready to use in your garden. You can sift it to remove any remaining large or uncomposted materials.