Ask anyone with a green thumb what their version of black gold is and I’m willing to bet the answer is compost. Whether you have decomposing organic matter in a hot pile, a cold pile or facilitated by worms, compost is not only a nutritious supplement for your garden, farm and house plants, but it is environmentally responsible too!
The key to making great compost is moisture and the proper balance of green and brown, also know as your C/N ratio. Too much green and your pile will stink of ammonia, too much brown and you won’t have enough nitrogen to support a growing colony of bacteria. Ultimately you want a 30:1 Carbone Nitrogen ratio. Now, before you start to feel overwhelmed by numbers, most green matter already starts out at a 20:1 C/N ratio, so really you just need to make up the difference. If you are still confused think of it as a 60%/40% ratio; that will get you close enough to a target balance for your compost heap to even itself out. A good example would be layering two parts dried leaves with one part grass clippings and ta-dah, there is your C/N balance.
There are various methods to creating compost, which I briefly mentioned earlier. The fastest way would be to build a hot pile, which requires a bit of maintenance, but it kills pathogens and weeds. A cold pile, also known as slow composting, is just that, slow. It can take up to two years for your heap to break down but it requires you to do nothing except allow nature to take its course. You can also make compost using worms, which is called vermiculture. This was something I researched last Summer and had planned to start in the Fall, however, due to life throwing a few curve balls in my direction, I had to put it on the back burner… ’til now. 🙂
At my last home I had a 3 sided cinder-block structure that I practiced slow composting. My new house, however, is not conducive to an open pile, so I ended up purchasing a 3 tiered locking structure. It just so happens that the day my compost bin arrived I was also gifted a double barrel tumbler… the exact one I had been lusting over but could in no way afford! I love when the universe evens things out!!
Both of my composters contain yard and garden waste from last year. Over the winter the majority of my kitchen scraps went into the dark green container. It’s just easier for me to take off the lid and toss my pale into that one then it is to unlatch the tumbler, especially when its bitter cold and there’s snow on the ground! Yes, I realize that is an omission of laziness; please forgive me, I’m an imperfect person.
Last Sunday we had a lovely pseudo-Spring day, so I started cleaning up the side beds in preparation for planting. I ended up with a decent sized pile of partially decomposed leaves and weeds that I added to the tumbler. I also decided to check the progress of the compost I started last Summer which is held in the dark green unit. I haven’t aerated it since winter began so I grabbed the pitchfork and started turning and mixing and you know what? There is some seriously beautiful humus going on in the bottom third of that container! Just look at it seeping out!! I didn’t want to open the door for fear I wouldn’t be able to close it and I’m not quite ready to add it to my garden.
Compost is typically not this wet but seeing as how I had just added more organic material and then hosed it down, a bit started leaking out of the bottom. After filling both sides of the tumbler it too received a good soaking; I then began turning the hand crank to give it a thorough mixing. I quickly grabbed my bucket and waited for the tea. Not the herbal kind mind you, but the compost kind. One of the benefits to having a tumbler is the nutrient rich tea that drips out of the unit!
After giving my (many) house plants a thirst quenching drink of compost tea, I still had enough left over to bottle up in jugs. I will store this to feed my transplants with over the next few weeks.
Images and content copyright © 2009-2011 Danielle R Limoge.