If you are interested in natural gardening methods, and making your plants as healthy as possible, you have probably come across the concept of composting. If you want to learn more about this eco-friendly method, here are some frequently asked questions.
What Can I Add and What Can’t I Add?
Not all organic substances are suitable, and your first question is probably what can I put in a compost pile? And it’s a great question because putting in the wrong things can compromise the quality of the compost and can even make you sick if you use the compost to grow food.
Things you can add include garden debris, yard trimmings, scraps of fruits and vegetables, droppings from animals that are herbivores, such as rabbits and sheep, egg shells, dryer lint, newspaper, non-glossy paper and paper towels.
Do not put meat, oily foods, fish, dairy products, pet waste from animals that eat meat, plants that are diseased or have been infested by insects, and damaged weeds.
How Do I Keep Pests Out?
If you have an open pile of compost, regularly turn food scraps into the pile and cover them with materials such as yard trimmings, rather than having them right on top. If pests are a really big issue, consider getting a bin that has a lid and small air holes. You can also use some alternative methods such as burying food scraps right in the garden, using a compost cone for food or building an indoor worm bin for foods scraps.
How Long Does Composting Take?
Composting can take anywhere from one month to two years depending on various conditions of the pile and how carefully you monitor and adjust it. A pile turned weekly or every two weeks that has all the right conditions may compost in one to two months. If you are not turning it or managing it regularly, it can take six months to two years.
You don’t need to compost quickly. It ultimately depends on how quickly you want to start using it.
Do I Need to Grind or Shred Materials?
Grinding or shredding can speed up the process, by making the compostable matter more accessible to the substances that will help the material decompose. It is not essential, however. But, if you have woody materials, such as sticks, shredding them will be necessary as they will not break down for years if left intact.
If you are actively managing your pile, it is important to know ground and shredded materials have less air flowing through them, and you should turn them more often.
How Do I Know When the Compost is Done?
When you can use your compost will depend on the purpose. If you are using it for mulch, it can be partly decomposed, meaning you may still recognize some of the source material. You can also use partly decomposed for a conditioner for garden soil in the fall to plant in the spring.
If you want to put it in the soil during growing season, planting trees, growing a new lawn or as a lawn top dressing, it must be mature. It will be about 1/3 of the original volume, it is dark, crumbly and earthy smelling, the original materials are not recognizable and the pile temperature is within 10 degrees of the current outdoor temp.