International Compost Awareness Week starts tomorrow. Below is an excellent quick article on composting and “black gold” as some call it.
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COLUMN: Getting the most from compost
By: Amanda Taylor | Statesville Record & Landmark
Published: May 05, 2012 Updated: May 05, 2012 – 12:22 PM
Producing compost, or “black gold,” as its known to gardeners, yields a big return with little investment. That’s because nature does most of the work.
Microbes are nature’s recyclers and the workhorses behind successful composting. They occur naturally in organic material, so there is no need to add commercially available compost starter.
If microbes are the engine behind composting, then water and oxygen are the fuel. Limiting either one will slow or stop the composting process.
To ensure that a compost pile has enough oxygen, turn it regularly (about once a week when it’s warm outside). This will allow oxygen to reach the center of the pile, so that things break down uniformly.
The compost pile should also be kept moist. If rain is limited, add water to the pile as needed so that compost is the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
Many types of organic material can go into a compost pile, but some things should be avoided, like meat, bones, grease, dairy products, and diseased plants. Lawn clippings can go into the pile also but do not need to be removed from fescue yards. Avoid adding lawn clippings that have been treated with herbicides containing picloram, clopyralid, or aminopyralid, as these chemicals can damage plants near which compost is applied.
Compost piles should include both brown (dead leaves and twigs) and green material (grass clippings, kitchen waste, etc.). Brown material supplies carbon, and green material supplies nitrogen, both of which are essential for microbes to work efficiently. The ideal ratio is 2 parts green material to 1 part brown material.
The smaller the particles are that go into a compost pile, the quicker they will break down. Branches larger than a quarter-inch in diameter should be shredded or chipped before going into the pile. If the compost pile contains only leaves, a handful of 10-10-10 fertilizer can be mixed in to accelerate the composting process.
As microbes break down these materials, heat is released. That is why the center of a functioning compost pile is hot. The length of time it takes until compost is ready to use depends on many factors, including the weather and the ingredients. You’ll know that the compost is ready to use when the center of the pile is cool and has an earthy smell.
Compost can be used as a mulch and spread on top of soil to conserve moisture. It can also be tilled in to improve soil structure and increase nutrient retention.
Compost bins can be constructed at home and are also now available at most garden centers. Compost tumblers make turning small amounts of compost easy.
Reap the benefits of compost by starting a pile today. After all, nature will do most of the work.
For a copy of “Composting: A Guide to Managing Organic Yard Wastes,” call the Iredell County Extension Service office at 704-873-0507 or visit www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/pdf/ag-467.pdf.
For instructions on how to build your own compost bin, visit www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/composting/pubs/build-bin.pdf.
If you have questions about your garden or landscape, contact us at 704-873-0507 or visit iredell.ces.ncsu.edu.