Friday, January 11, 2008


Composting is easier and less disgusting than you might think. We’ve been composting for three years now, and it’s become second nature. Keep in mind that we live in a suburban neighborhood in northern New Jersey, so you don’t need acres of land. We’re not talking about a big heap of rotting food—our composting container is a black plastic cylinder about three feet tall that we keep behind our garage. Kitchen scraps are collected in a lovely white porcelain container from Williams Sonoma made for exactly that purpose (but Tupperware would do just as well), and every few days we empty it out. We’ve also started a separate outdoor compost pile of just grass clippings and shredded leaves. Both piles have good ground contact in order to encourage the earthworm population.

Active composters keep track of the ratios of different kinds of matter, and they turn the compost regularly. We haven’t done any of that, although Mark does periodically turn both piles with a big spade fork just to promote even distribution and aeration. And now we’ve got black, nutrient-rich earth coming out of the bottom of the composter. It’s pretty darn easy.
- The ideal compost ratio is 4 parts brown (cold):1 part green (hot). Shredded leaves are an excellent source of cold material while green grass clippings and household scraps provide hot nitrogen sources. Coffee grounds are especially high in nitrogen but are also acidic (<5 pH) and should be used sparingly.

- Unrestricted airflow and moisture are necessary composting ingredients. It is also important that a compost pile maintains good ground contact to encourage worms.

- To best feed plants, make compost tea, which is made by soaking muslin-wrapped compost in a bucket of water for 12-24 hours. Aeration introduced during the steeping process is helpful in encouraging more vigorous microbe growth. The resulting ‘tea’ is then pumped and sprayed onto plant leaves early in the day.

- Add fresh or cured manure to the composter. Manure is a ready source of nitrogen. Never use manure without composting, and always use sparingly.

- Types of manure
Cow: Lowest in N but most balance overall.
Sheep: High in N but well balanced.
Horse: High in N, ideal for grass but not for flowering plants.
Poultry: Highest in N, not recommended for flowering plants.

Next up: Pest and fungus control--yum!

No comments: