In fancy terms, a compost pile is a biological decomposition of organic material. In simpler and more appealing terms, it is a heap where you can dispose of and recycle any vegetarian food scraps from your kitchen, in order to create a nutrient-dense fertilizing soil for your garden. As the foods break down over time, this special soil is created.
Adding compost to your lawn or garden improves both the structure and texture of the soil, allowing the necessary nutrients, moisture, and air to better be retained. It can be mixed into flower and vegetable beds, blended with potting soil for indoor plants, spread onto your lawn, or even used as mulch around the bases of trees and shrubs.
Let's Get Started!
A compost pile can easily be kept and maintained within a mesh, wooden, or wire fence, or within a metal trash can, as long as you punch holes in it to allow for sufficient air flow. No matter which containment method you choose, try to keep it within 5 ft. wide and 5 ft. high.
Examples of compost pile containers:
Once you choose a containment method, the next steps are choosing a location, and then focusing on maintenance. Here's a few tips:
- A compost pile should sit in an area that has good drainage, so that it does not become muddy or overly-wet. The soil should remain moist, but never soggy. In the case of a drought or dry spell, a bit of water may be added.
Your compost pile should receive a generous amount of sunlight, but not sit in an area that receives direct sunlight the entire day. Shoot for an area that receives direct sunlight for only 50% of the day.
- You should turn and mix the soil with a shovel periodically in order to ensure that oxygen is distributed throughout it, and also to accelerate decomposition.
- It is important to maintain equal parts of green, nitrogen-rich materials, and brown, carbon-rich materials within your compost.
Here are some common examples of what you should and shouldn't include in your compost heap:
leaves and brush
fats or oils
Add scraps to your compost daily until your container is full. As the scraps break down, heat will be generated in the center of the heap, so do not be surprised if steam rises when you toss the soil around with your shovel.
Allow up to three months for your compost to be ready for use. Compost that is ready to use should be dark brown in color, crumbly in texture, and earthy in scent. Make sure that it has a fluffy consistency, and that there are no recognizable materials in the compost, because this means they have not decomposed completely. Incompletely decomposed material may contain bacteria that will compete with plants for nitrogen in the soil, stunting your plants' growth and causing them to become yellow in color.
Besides promoting the idea of re-using and recycling, adding compost soil to your flower and vegetable gardens provides an abundance of benefits. The nutrients in compost soil are released slowly, providing them to your plants over the course of months and even up to a year, unlike common synthetic fertilizers. It also contains both macro and micro nutrients, which most synthetic fertilizers often lack. Compost soil supports healthy root systems in plants, stabilizes soil pH levels, suppresses various plant diseases, and attracts beneficial organisms such as worms, which keep the soil oxygen-rich and help plants to flourish.
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