Compost - A Beneficial Soil Additive
I have talked about the beneficial effects of compost many times, but I have recently been asked about the ‘ingredients’ that can be beneficial to the mix and to the soil.
These are microscopic images of nematodes, fungi, protozoa, and amoeba. In healthy soil, there are millions of these guys looking for something to eat.
Micro-organisms love to eat. So organic materials are high on the ingredient list. What is considered organic? The simple answer is ‘anything that was once alive’. This life could have existed as plants or animals. So let’s look at specific green and brown ingredients the gardener can easily use to make compost a beneficial product.
Green Ingredients for the compost pile are high in Nitrogen, amino acids, and proteins, which are foods for the micro-organisms.
Grass clippings and vegetable peels are easily available for the home compost pile. Any salad fixing - like the outer leaves of lettuce or onions, the tops of carrots, or the stems of peppers - can be added to the compost. Trimmings from green beans, or the core of a head of cabbage are eligible for the green category for the compost pile. Don’t throw away that banana peel, or the core of an apple, or potato peelings either. Put them into the compost bin.
Other green elements for compost are manures. This can come from horses, cows, bunnies, goats, chickens, and bats. When bunny or chicken manure is used, don’t forget to add in the bedding materials, like straw or wood shavings. Those materials are a good source of ‘brown’ ingredients for the pile. ( I should note here that neither cat nor dog manure nor human waste should ever be added to the compost pile because of the risk of parasites that may not break down in the compost.)
Coffee grounds and banana peels are almost daily ingredients to the compost bin at my house. Tea bags get in the mix too. Let’s face it, coffee grounds are free, smell great, and they help retain moisture in the compost. Seaweed or algae from the water feature in the yard can also be added. Doing some dead-heading in the garden? That plant material can go in too. Cleaning up houseplants of yellowing or dropped leaves is another source for green ingredients for the compost pile.
Egg shells are controversial as an ingredient for compost. The salmonella risk of uncooked eggs is in question. I don’t use my compost on food crops, so I have been known to throw in the eggs. However, if even handling the compost might cause a risk concern, the shells can be microwaved for three minutes (cooked) before adding them to the compost pile.
One other ingredient that I don’t think about adding to the pile is hair. Cutting the kids hair, or brushing a shedding dog are good sources for hair.
The ‘brown’ ingredients added to the compost pile provide carbon. Microbes really get into eating these.
The list of these ‘brown’ carbon sources are many: dead leaves, straw, dried grass, paper towels and the tube they come on, old potting soil, dead plants, the coffee filters and tea bags, wood ashes from the fire pit, saw dust from untreated wood, and even dried, stale beans or grains from the pantry.
Dryer fabric softener sheets and dryer lint are good ‘brown’ ingredients.
Paper towels, toilet paper rolls, and tissues need not be thrown away to become landfill, but can be part of the beneficial elements of compost.
Several brown items that should not be added are animal fats from bones or meat. Neither should weed seeds nor diseased plants be added to the compost pile as the high temperatures needed to kill the seed or pathogens are not maintained in the home compost. Spreading weeds are a challenge anyway, we do not need to help them along.
I use both of these for compost in my garden. (The wire one is a recycled dog kennel – win win) The air flow is good in both. But the enclosed one in black has a handy lid to keep critters out. This is the one I put food scraps into. Dogs, raccoons and opossum find the compost materials yummy. I have had the enclosed bin be too dry since rain doesn’t get in so I’ve bee know to add a bottle of beer to the container. The hops and yeasts in the beverage just add to the natural elements in the mixture. Twigs and grass clipping, or other yard debris go into the wire bin.
Some are reluctant to have a compost pile because of the odor of decaying materials. If the technology is too complicated, some will not attempt to compost anything. Both the odor and the technical aspects should not deter us from trying. The simplest ‘rule’ I’ve followed it to layer the green and brown layers in an approximate 50-50 ratio. If the mix is higher in the brown, that will work too.
Turning the compost in an open pile is not difficult. By allowing air and moisture to get in and through the material, decomposition will naturally occur. The layers are not too critical once the pile gets turned. Left unturned, the materials will still decompose, just a little slower. I’ve had results in an unturned pile in a year. If the pile get smelly, (sour), add more ‘brown’ ingredients like straw, leaves, or shredded paper.
A healthy finished compost should be moist, not soggy, and have a rich, earthy smell.
This product called compost will have immeasurable benefits in the garden. The feeding of the soil is the key. Feed the microbes, and they will digest the organic material, and create enzymes that will allow the nutrients to feed the plants. Feed the soil, not the plants is the mantra of organic gardening. Compost is a great way to return beneficial nutrients to the soil.
I hope composting becomes a vital part of your gardening. Thanks for stopping by today.