Maintaining the health of your soil is key for a garden to thrive. One way to ensure that your soil is rich and full of nutrients is by using compost.
Compost is the soil-like result of organic matter decomposing. It is a natural fertilizer that improves soil structure and introduces nutrients when added to soil. Essentially, composting is nature’s method of recycling. Though decomposition takes a while in nature, the process can be sped up by altering the conditions in which it occurs.
The first thing to consider when composting is the organic material you are going to recycle. You should choose a mixture of nitrogen-rich (greens) and carbon-rich (browns) materials. One way to distinguish between greens and browns is based on the moisture content. Greens are typically “wet” materials like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds. Browns are the drier materials such as leaves, straw, and wood products like paper or sawdust. The best ratios for composting are between 1:1 and 1:2 greens to browns by volume.
Other than the organic materials you choose, there are three conditions that affect composting speed: oxygen availability, moisture content, and temperature. To properly decompose, compost requires oxygen and airflow. This can be achieved by turning over compost piles or using a compost tumbler. You should turn over compost at least once a week to aerate the pile.
Moisture is also important to compost, as you want the pile to feel damp, but not over saturated. If too dry, water your pile or add greens. If too wet, add more browns to absorb the moisture.
Lastly, temperature plays a large role in the speed of decomposition. Keep an eye on the temperature of your compost with a thermometer and make adjustments as needed. Higher temperatures typically mean faster decomposition, but anything above 180 degrees Fahrenheit will likely kill off beneficial microorganisms. If a compost pile gets too cold (110 degrees Fahrenheit) the decomposition process will slow down.
Once your compost is ready to use, it will look like dark, almost fluffy soil. It will also have a pleasant, earthy smell and have returned to air temperature. You can use compost in a variety of ways: mixed with soil for planting, as a mulch, or even as a liquid fertilizer by making compost tea. Whichever method you choose, your soil will be rich and packed full of nutrients.