Let's Talk Compost

There is certainly a chance that those of you reading this thought it was going to be a review of the 2005 Rustic Voyage EP by the Austin Texas based band Compost, which is spearheaded by the environmentally conscious singer/songwriter Joseph La Fave. Alas I am writing about the benefits of composting in ones garden but if you happen to be interested in the former you can always check out La Fave’s website at http://lakeofthemind.com/

If you were to walk into your local library you would be able to find book after book praising the benefits of composting. I will attempt to give you the cliff notes on the subject but I highly recommend looking into it if it is not something you are already doing. For this blog I am mostly gathering my information from the following sources; The seed savers exchange, which can be found online at www.seedsavers.org, www.earthmachine.com , Clemson Cooperative Extension found at hgic.clemson.edu and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, of which I am a board member, found at www.cce.cornell.edu/

Let’s briefly discuss the benefits of composting. To begin with the environmental impact is tremendous. If you properly compost and recycle you can reduce the amount of garbage your family generates by nearly 80%! Another benefit according to Cornell Co-op is that “Organic matter in the soil improves plant growth by helping to break up heavy clay soils and improving their structure, by adding water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils, and by adding essential nutrients to any soil.” By using your compost you are returning organic matter to the soil in a usable form. Clemson Extension points out that “Compost also contains beneficial microscopic organisms that build up the soil and make nutrients available to plants.”

Basically compost contains nutrients that provide energy and growth for microorganisms. The organic materials involved each have their own ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Everything that is organic has its own ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C: N) in its tissues that can range from 500:1 like sawdust to 15:1 for table scraps. Clemson Cooperative,among others, states that “A C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for
the activity of compost microbes.” Items such as leaves, straw and sawdust have a higher ratio of carbon while things like grass clipping and veggie scraps are higher in nitrogen. An easy trick is to think of these items as browns and greens. Greens are your nitrogen and browns are you carbon. This is important to know simply because anything with a C: N ratio that is too high takes forever to decay so if you mix your browns and greens properly things will move along nicely.

Most folks have a separate space for their lawn clippings and their kitchen scraps. Our main compost bin contains our green kitchen scraps for the most part. The only “animal” product we put in is discarded egg shells. We also put old coffee grounds and unbleached toilet paper rolls in along with all the remains of vegetables and fruits. It is highly recommended that you do not put meat, bones or fatty foods in your compost bin as it will most likely attract unwanted guest such as raccoons and skunks and will make your pile release a foul odor. If you find your compost becoming too damp simply add a little soil from your garden or some dried lawn scraps such as grass or leaves. Be sure to rotate your compost regularly as well to help the process move along. Heat plays a large part in the rate of decay so in the winter you will notice a very slow process taking place but keep at it when the spring comes it will take right off.

There are a number of options for compost bins or containers. You can make them yourself out of garbage cans, you can buy the large stationary plastic bins (we received ours from Cornell Co-op as a gift from our in-laws so be sure to check with your local co-op.) You can build frames for lawn scraps out of old wood and so on. With a little research online and a few hours in your local library you will find the model that works best for you. I even recommend having a brief conversation with a neighbor if you see a bin in their yard.

It really takes a minimal amount of effort to do something wonderful for the environment and for your gardens, whether they are flower, herb or veggie.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead  https://www.facebook.com/seedtoharvestbossyhenhomestead/ which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here https://amileinhershoestalesofastayathomedad.wordpress.com/


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