There are literally millions of articles on how to make compost. A Google search turned up 8,560,000. I didn’t even try to get past the first 3 pages, but most of them were instructions for making a “hot compost pile”.
I have just come to realize that some (and I’ll bet there are many) new gardeners think this is the only way to get finished compost. The fact of the matter is there are numerous ways to compost.
Understanding What Compost Is
The Noun – “Compost” – is a mixture of decaying organic material. (This can be cut cover crops, leaves, straw, kitchen scraps, or manure. It is the organic material that is decaying. It is NOT the finished product.)
The Verb – “To Compost” means to convert to compost (or decaying organic material.)
Finished Compost looks like uniform, loose, crumbly dark earth. It’s called Humus.
- A “hot compost pile” is only one of many methods to arrive at the goal of finished compost — or humus. A hot compost pile produces finished compost more quickly than other methods; this is the main advantage of a hot compost pile.
If done properly a moist mixture of “greens” (like grass grass clippings) and “browns” (like leaves) heats to between 115 to 160 degrees and renders the mixture to humus (finished compost). With finely chopped ingredients and proper conditions you could have humus in as little as 14 days. The time — whether 14 days, 6 weeks, or 3 months — all depends on the conditions that are present.
MEMO: You’ll see a lot of holding units and turning units for this method of composting advertised. All these things are unnecessary for making compost piles. So just remember — you don’t need to speed a penny unless you really want to.
- Cold Compost Pile
Pile up organic material. Let it rot. No need to worry about the right proportion of “greens” (adding nitrogen to heat the pile) and “browns” (carbons to add fiber and air) or how much water to add. No turning it. Hardly any time spent.
Takes longer to make finished compost than a hot pile, but the result is the same — humus.
Reminder: Do not place diseased material into a cold compost pile because pathogens need the heat of a hot pile to kill them.
If you don’t have the time or the inclination to pile up organic material, turn it several times, and haul the humus back to garden — there are ways to get humus with far less effort. And it can be done right at the spot that needs the organic matter.
Here are Other Methods:
- Sheet composting
This is an easy way to obtain the benefit of compost without building a compost pile. It involves spreading a layer of organic material over a garden area and tilling it into the soil to accelerate decomposition. (I don’t recommend tilling.) Or — you can pile layers of organic material on the soil and allow it to decompose over time like the popular Lasagna method of soil preparation.
- Pit Composting
-This is a simple way for composting kitchen scraps. Dig the soil a shovel’s depth. Put your kitchen scraps in the hole and then cover with the soil you removed. Decomposition can take one month or one year depending on the temperatures and the microorganisms in your soil. (The warmer the temperatures and the more microorganisms in your soil — the faster decomposition is.)
-Keep in mind your kitchen scraps will use nitrogen in the soil for the decay process — so you don’t want them to compete for the nitrogen with growing plants. Thus, the best time to use Pit Composting in garden beds is when the beds are empty and will remain empty long enough for decay to take place.
-I bury my kitchen scraps at random in unused areas of my garden. In the growing season when the garden is full I bury the scraps under the straw in the paths. The next year, I throw several inches of the resulting rich humus from the paths up onto an adjoining bed and put more straw into the path.
- Heavy Mulching
Mulching imitates nature. Think in terms of a forest floor.
Decay taking place at the soil’s surface is slower. It’s steady and maintains soil fertility. Soil microbes and worms abound. They continuously loosen the earth and eliminate crusting.
Mulch keeps the humus from oxidizing in the high summer heat and it helps retain moisture.
If a new garden is made in infertile soil it may take a year or two to build soil life with the heavy mulching method. (If you can add manure just in the beginning, it will speed up the process.) Once that’s done mulching materials alone are sufficient to fertilize the soil!
The Need for Compost
It’s hard to read anything about organic gardening that doesn’t mention the need for compost. If you’re a successful organic gardener, compost is already part of your soil fertility plan — as it is mine. And — over the years I’ve used every one of the above methods to obtain the needed finished compost (humus).
When I first started gardening I made a hot compost pile. I now use all the methods that take the least amount of time.
You don’t need to spend one penny to compost, unless you want to. And you don’t have to spend much time composting. The method you use to get finished compost (humus) doesn’t have to be a “hot compost pile” —, but rather whatever method fits your time, schedule, life style and pocketbook the best.
All organic material decays. The result is humus (finished compost). It doesn’t matter to your soil which method you use to get it.
Organic Gardening is easy, efficient, effective and its a lot healthier.
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