Making Good Compost to Grow great things. In the next two posts I will go over what I believe good Compost is, and what goes into making good compost. But first I need to make something clear, If you came here to read about how to make compost in 18 days, that’s not what were gonna talk about. I believe good compost takes time and effort. My compost has always taken around a month to
become something I would consider usable. The compost made for this article took thirty eight days before it stopped heating when turned. I’ve done much research into the subject and have learned that even at that point it may not be ready to use on most plants. The compost should have another month or longer of curing or mellowing in order to make it usable for everything in the garden that’s been established. When using it to start seeds or using on more delicate plants the compost should mellow over several months or even longer. Don’t let that last statement discourage you though. If you make your own compost it can be better than any store bought potting soil, manure or fertilizer for that matter. After all you will know exactly what went into it. This of course is just my opinion.
What is compost
Compost is basically a soil amendment that adds humus (soil organic matter), beneficial microbes and fungi to your soil. Improves soils structure and replenishes or adds needed nutrients to your soil. You can make it yourself and manure from large animals is not required.
Making the compost the way I do, I can’t take any credit for. As it is a bunch of different ideas from many sources I have picked up along the way in my quest to make my plants grow to their greatest potential and be as nutrient dense as possible. It takes time but when it gets to the plants, they just grow amazingly well. I’ve grown 14 lb. Cabbages, beet’s the size of soft balls (still tender) and more tomatoes than any one person could ever handle. Our asparagus is exceptionally large, all of our vegetables grow well.
The thing to remember about compost is that it can be made from whatever organic materials you have lying around. You should also always try to get as much biodiversity in your compost as possible. With that said I’ll go through the basics of compost pile building with that kind of stuff. Along with some additional ingredients from other sources. Yours will be completely different, and that’s okay. Just follow some general guidelines to get started. As with anything else you will learn over time what you can do, and what you shouldn’t. Compost is no different. I will cover what is known as a hot compost pile. This is where the bacteria in the pile heat things up enough to kill most pathogens and weed seeds.
A little History
A little back ground before we begin. I’ve been composting since 2003. A matter of fact as strange as it seems. I had a compost pile before I had a garden. Then I started to garden seriously a couple of years later.
When I was a little kid I would go to my grandmas house, there in the back corner of the yard there was a compost pile. My grandmother would always complain if someone put sticks in the pile. She would say we would have to break them up small or they would be there forever. In front of the compost pile there was a short wooden fence to hold everything in. Years before, My Grandfather had planted rhubarb in front of that little fence. To say those rhubarb plants were huge would be an understatement.
Fast forward a ways
When my wife and I got a place of our own, we were fortunate enough to have two city lots. After mowing or cleaning up the yard I wasn’t sure what to do with all the stuff we raked up. We were in the city, I couldn’t burn it. The neighbors, and many others just piled everything up in the spot between my property and theirs. It was a mess, I decided the best thing for me to do was build a compost pile. I remember thinking maybe we will do a garden at some point. I didn’t turn the pile or worry about what went into the pile really. That pile just grew with leaves, grass clippings, small twigs, etc.
When I did decide to have a garden, I wanted to make sure we used no pesticides or fertilizers at all. Wasn’t sure how to proceed. Then I remembered the compost, I started collecting anything and everything I could to build that pile as large as possible.
I did some research to make the best compost I could. Then I bought a book called “Let It Rot” you can find it here, Let It Rot by Stu Campbell. That’s when I learned about greens and browns, and about turning the compost to help it decompose. It’s a good book to start with if you want to get into composting.
Greens and browns or Nitrogen and Carbon
The first things to consider when building your compost pile are the greens and browns. Well the greens are basically grass clippings, weeds from the garden, food scraps, hay etc. and things high in nitrogen. If it’s holding moisture, and is not completely decomposed then most likely it’s a green. Things like banana peels, fruit rinds, and other kitchen scraps. In the spring and all summer long if you want to you can use a bagger on your lawn mower to gather as much greens as you want. Now I hardly ever bag my grass clippings, I put the grass right back down to recycle back into the soil. But when its time to build a compost pile grass clippings become a major component. Why? Because its largely what is available.
Browns are things like straw, last years sunflower stalks, fallen leaves, or corn stalks. All of those dead, high carbon containing items that are lying around including small twigs.
The proportion should be a ratio of 30:1 browns to greens. I have read that green grass clippings are around 20:1 already so the best way I have found is laying down a layer of greens and then alternating with a layer of browns, say straw for example.
Other things to consider
Something to remember here is that the greens are what help break things down, they are what contains the nitrogen that feeds the organisms to get things to heat up and break the browns down. I don’t think I’ve ever had the “right” proportions of greens or browns.
What ends up happening in the early summer months for me is lots of grass clippings, and some leaves and other dry debris I am able to find. Along with kitchen scraps. This makes a hot pile, with some ammonia odor for a week or two due to there being too many greens in the pile. This is something you want to try to avoid. I will also buy straw bails to get the ratio closer to optimal. You want to try to keep the temperature between 125-135 degree’s Fahrenheit more browns (carbon) will help to keep the temps down.
In the fall I end up building a pile with lots of leaves, and some grass clippings, garden residue and kitchen scraps. I make this work too. The pile heats up just fine, usually without the ammonia or “barnyard smell” as my wife tells me. So in the early summer the pile is lacking browns, and in the fall my pile usually is lacking greens. Probably closer to what you should have to make a good productive compost pile that wont lose as many nutrients. Do the best you can with what you have. Think ahead when gathering stuff to try to have greens and browns in the proportions you need them when you need them. I accumulate these things in separate piles over time and make the pile when you have enough goodies to make compost.
Compost Activator’s to make Good Compost
Compost Activator’s can be some types of grain meal like cottonseed meal, or alfalfa meal. I’ve heard Comfrey makes a good activator too. I just started growing Comfrey and plan on incorporating it where ever I can. The compost pile is one of them.
Any type of manure will make a good activator. Fish meal, or other animal parts from cleaning fish or field dressing an animal would make a good activator. Although I don’t use the animal parts anymore, you may want to. Finished compost is good too, probably the best actually. It has all the biodiversity from the compost pile it came from. Soil from the forest works as well. There are other activator’s out there too made commercially for this purpose. Jobes makes one, you can find it here: Jobe’s Compost starter.
Also a good activator, you can find it here Bat Guano. This will have many diverse biological organisms that will proliferate the compost pile when added to the mix. I’m going to use the bat guano for my activator. Another ingredient that I happen to have is old rotted straw. So instead of leaves we will use straw bails this time around to build the compost pile.
Whether you make your own or purchase it, you can find some here Biochar. The best way to insure it will do well in your garden is by putting it right in the compost you make first. Other wise you risk slowing down the growth of the plants in your garden. If you apply the biochar directly, or if it has not been inoculated, or loaded with nutrients, biochar will soak up nutrients and keep them from your plants. Make sure it’s inoculated and full of nutrients. Then it will feed your plants over a long period of time. Biochar also keeps CO2 in the soil when things decompose like after you are done growing stuff and the roots die in the soil. So this will feed your plants and save the planet at the same time.
One last ingredient that I like to add and possibly the most important is Rock dust. I’m not talking about the dust off a dirt road either. I’m talking about Volcanic igneous rock dust like Basalt. You can find a good one here Basalt Rock dust. This rock dust contains many trace minerals that our soils now lack. In short the food we eat lacks these minerals because the soils do. Farmers don’t add any of these essential minerals back to the soil when growing their crops either. So our health is effected by this and according to some sources mineral deficiency can cause all sorts of health problems. The composting process helps make the minerals in the rock dust bio-available to the plants. I think this helps us create really good compost.
These minerals also get soaked up by the biochar during this process. After applying the compost to the garden the plants use the mineral that has been made available by the soil fungi and microbes. Then we eat the nutrient dense food and stay healthier, live longer and all that happy stuff. You can actually taste the difference. Or I might be nuts, but I think stuff grown with rock dust tastes better.
Basically these are formed through decomposition of organic plant matter. They can be found in humic shale, rock that was formed millions of years ago made from compacted prehistoric plant matter. It can be found forming today in river sediments and is also created to some extent, when you make compost. I don’t fully understand the process of why this stuff works but it helps release the mineral from the rock dust and makes it available to your plants in a form they can use. This material itself, also contains many minerals that the plants need. Since we are putting the rock dust in the compost it’s a good idea to start this process right in our good compost pile.
In the next post I’ll go about how to assemble all of this together into a compost heap. How to get it cooking, and how we will attempt to keep as much nitrogen and other nutrients in the pile as possible through the process.
Thanks for reading.