Compost production is an essential part of gardening. Many people who have gardens have a large amount of organic waste, from grass clippings to leaves and dead plants and kitchen trimmings. Unfortunately, many people waste money and time having these wastes transported to a landfill. Even a complete composting noob can create top-notch compost with the right recipe. Similar to cooking, composting is half art, and half science. Awareness of these basic factors will help you getting started.
All this garbage that people are trying to get rid of can be a better supplement for your garden as compost than any fertilizer or chemical. If you properly compost all of the garbage, you can turn all the stuff you would have thrown away into top grade fertilizer for your garden.
Where to Put Your Compost Heap
Usually compost is piled somewhere in your backyard. Sometimes thoughts of a compost heap brings ugly images to ones mind, such as of heaps of rotten garbage emitting a horrid odor and rats. However, if you maintain it correctly you’ll be able to produce great compost without producing an offensive odor or pests. When I first began my compost pile in an effort to improve my soil, I made several mistakes. These included packing on the grass clippings and such, preventing the pile from the oxygen it truly needed, and not mixing up the materials to keeping it too dry. It ended up smelling so bad that I just avoided the area and questioned if composting was for me.
When you are choosing your spot where you will be putting all of these materials, you should aim for a higher square footage. Having a really deep pile of compost is not a good idea, because generally the deeper sections won’t be exposed to anything that is required for the process to work. It is better to spread it all out over a large area. Perhaps you have a section of your garden that is not being used until next year. This would give the compost a place as well as giving it the time it needs to rot.
Better, still, is using something that will aid you in actually fitting in compost into your lifestyle and making it easy to do. Also, you can surround the pile with decorative fencing or hedges to camouflage it a bit.
Materials to Put in Your Compost Heap
Just like a good cook demands high quality ingredients, successful composting needs the best ingredients too. A compost heap can consist of any organic garbage from your yard, garden or kitchen. This includes grass clippings, leaves, plant stalks, hedge trimmings, old potting soil, twigs, vegetable scraps, coffee filters, and tea bags. Also you can include newspaper (no more than a fifth of your pile should consist of newspaper, due to it having a harder time composting with the rest of the materials).
If microorganisms have more surface area to feed off of, the materials will decompose faster. Chopping your organic materials with a machete, or using a shredder or lawnmower to shred materials will help them break down faster.Usually if you have a garbage can devoted to storing all of these materials as you accumulate them, it will fill up within several weeks. It is quite easy to obtain compost, but the hard part truly comes in getting it out to the compost pile. Keeping a compost bin in the kitchen can also help contain it there and give you something you can walk out the back door daily. There are many decorative ones available nowadays.
In addition, you can use the manure (poop) of vegetable eating animals,especially rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep, and chickens. These animals will add valuable material to the compost you are making and also helps you deal with their waste. If you use wood shavings/chips or newspaper as a substrate in their cages, it can be thrown in also. DO NOT use any chemically treated substrate though. Read the labels.
Bad composting materials include: diseased plants, weeds with seed heads, invasive weeds, human feces, dead animals, meat or fish parts, dairy products, grease, cooking oil, or oily foods. DO NOT use any Dog or Cat Waste or cat litter.
To prepare compost, you need organic materials, microorganisms, air, water, and a small quantity of nitrogen. Organic material is what you are trying to decompose. Microorganisms are tiny forms of plant and animal life, which break down organic material. A small amount of garden soil or manure supplies adequate microorganisms. The air, nitrogen, and water offer an encouraging environment for the microorganisms to produce your compost. You can add enough nitrogen to the compost with small amount of nitrogen fertilizer., which can be purchased at hardware stores or nurseries. Air is the one ingredient which you can’t have too much of. Too much nitrogen can kill microbes; too much water causes insufficient air in the pile. Too dry and all decay action is stopped. That is why it is good to have the pile open to the rain.
The compost pile is your oven. Compost piles catch heat created by the activity of millions of microorganisms. The minimum size, for home use, for hot, fast composting is a 3-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot. But piles taller than 5 feet don’t permit enough air to reach the microorganisms at the center. Turning tall piles usually requires forklifts or bulldozers. That is what they use in commercial composting today.
Your compost pile’s microorganisms work their hardest when the materials have about the moistness of a wrung-out sponge and as many air passages. The air in the pile is usually consumed faster than the moisture, so the pile should be turned or mixed up now and then to add more air; this maintains high temperatures and controls odor. Use a pitchfork, rake, or other garden tool can to turn materials with. You can use any number of compost bins or compost tumblers available for purchase. You can also purchase and use a special compost thermometer. It is very long to be able to reach into the center of your compost pile. (Incidentally, I also use my thermometer to check when the ground is warm enough in Spring to plant)
Horse Manure – Does It Have Any Uses?
I spent my summers at my Aunt’s home next to a dairy farm and learned early in my life that cow manure is useful. That usefulness may have been born out of necessity, though. After all, the manure from a herd of 50 cows has to go somewhere right? That’s how I learned that cow manure makes a great fertilizer. But I never had horses so I started wondering if horse manure is useful as a fertilizer too.
Although there is a wide range of weights among horses depending on the breed, an average adult riding horse weighs approximately 900 – 1,100 pounds. A horse that size produces around 8 to 9 tons; or between 16,000 and 18,000 pounds of manure every year. That’s a lot of horse manure.
What is done with that manure? One option for disposal is to haul it to a landfill site, but that is not an eco-friendly option and some landfills will not accept horse manure. The best option is to spread the horse manure on land so it decomposes quickly, or to compost it and then use it to improve soil quality.
One problem with using horse manure directly tilled in to fertilize ground in the farmer’s field is that many people use sawdust or wood chips as bedding in horse stalls. When the stalls are cleaned, the dirty sawdust or wood chips as well as the manure are removed. While the horse manure itself is a good fertilizer, the sawdust and wood chips are not crop friendly until it breaks down. That’s because when wood breaks down in the soil a nitrogen deficiency occurs, which stunts the growth of crops. To combat this problem, a nitrogen fertilizer can be added to the soil after horse manure is spread on it; or a nitrogen fertilizer can be added to the horse manure and sawdust or wood shavings mixture before being added to the soil. This is all accomplished if you compost the material first, before spreading it on your crops.
When adding the manure to a compost pile, any sawdust and wood chips present in the manure are okay. They are a good “brown” component to compost. It takes about six months for the manure, sawdust or wood chips, and any other materials added to the compost pile to completely break down and become what many people call “black gold.”
To make a compost pile with horse manure as one of the components, layer it with green compost items. Many experts suggest alternating layers of brown and green compost items because you need sources of both carbon (brown items) and nitrogen (green items) in your compost pile. Brown items such as horse manure, wood chips, and sawdust are great sources of carbon. A few good sources of nitrogen (the green items) for a compost pile include: green leaves, fresh grass clippings, the scraps from raw fruits and vegetables, and coffee grounds. Yes, coffee grounds are brown, but for the purposes of compost they are considered a green item because they provide the compost pile with nitrogen.
After you have begun to get a large assortment of materials in your compost heap, you should moisten the whole pile. This encourages the process of composting. Also chop every element of the pile into the smallest pieces possible. As the materials start to compress and meld together as they decompose, frequently head outside and aerate the pile. You can use a shovel to mix it all up, or an aeration tool to poke dozens of tiny holes into it.
Because the compost pile is a living thing, it needs water and air to thrive. Your compost pile should be turned each week, adding water as needed to keep the compost pile damp. Doing this will increase the oxygen flow to each part of the pile, and oxygen is required for any decomposition to take place. You’ll know the process of breaking down has completed when the compost material is dark and crumbly and fresh smelling.
Once the horse manure and other materials have turned into the “black gold” I mentioned a little earlier in this article, it’s finally time to put the black gold to good use. While compost isn’t officially considered a fertilizer, it contains nutrients that are great for plants and soil. Some good ways to use your horse manure compost are: as mulch for garden plants and around landscaping; as a soil improvement component for sandy soil; as a soil improvement for clay soil; and as a material to help control erosion.
If maintaining a compost pile sounds like something that would interest you, start considering the different placement options. The hardest part about maintaining a pile is choosing a spot that provides enough square footage without intruding on the rest of your yard or garden. While usually you can prevent the horrible odors that most people associate with compost heaps, it’s still not a pleasant thing to have to look at whenever you go for a walk in your garden.