Composting For Sustainable Organic Gardening

SUSTAINABLE SOIL building for organic gardening begins after the initial garden soil testing and the addition of fertilizers and conditioners. It is very important to maintain and improve the soil when trying to garden organically. Sustaining the soil means that you have a means of replenishing the garden soil with what you have at hand – compost, beneficial microbes, enzymes, and earthworms. Ideally, once your organic garden is established it could be sustained with garden compost alone – by removing garden soil and layering it in your compost. This method uses the microbes in your soil to inoculate your compost, which in turn will feed your soil. SHREDDED ALFALFA HAY is one of the secrets of great compost. It is worth it to rent a shredder for the weekend, and shred up a few bales of alfalfa hay. Worms thrive on it, and it provides the best mulch and soil additive for your garden soil.

BUILDING YOUR PILE

BUILD YOUR PILE about four feet in diameter, and four feet high, on a well-drained site. A ring of hog wire with a ring of chicken wire on the outside of it works well – providing air circulation, keeping the pile contained, is easily taken apart for turning or sifting, and, it is economical and very easy to maintain. We let our piles set for a year and then sift them in the spring when we are adding compost to our garden beds. No Turning! If you want to turn your pile, let it set 3-4 months, remove the wire and set it up next to your pile. Take the pile apart, mix it, and add it to the new pile, moistening it as you go. You may do this as often as you like. This will speed up your composting process.

FIRST LAYER on the bottom should be about three inches of roughage – corn stalks, brush, or other materials to provide air circulation.

SECOND LAYER is two to four inches of dry vegetation – carbon-rich “brown” materials, like fall leaves, straw, dead flowers shredded newspaper, shredded alfalfa hay or dry manure. Water well.

THIRD LAYER should be two to four inches of green vegetation – nitrogen-rich materials, like grass clippings, weeds, garden waste, vegetable peelings, tea leaves, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells. Kitchen waste may be added but never use meat scraps, diseased plants, dog or cat manure, or poisonous plants, plant-based kitchen waste. Water until moistened. (Too much water will compact your pile and reduce available oxygen.)

FOURTH LAYER is garden soil, two inches thick. It is important to add garden soil because it contains a supply of microorganisms and nutrients, which will inoculate your compost pile. As microorganisms grow, they collect essential nutrients containing antibiotics, vitamins, and catalytic enzymes in their body tissues and release them slowly as they die and decompose.

REPEAT LAYERS of dry vegetation, green vegetation, and garden soil – moistening each layer – until the pile is three or four feet high. To insure enough green vegetation one can plant extra garden greens, or devote one of the garden beds to the growing of compost. Good composting greens are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, comfrey (grow it in an isolated spot, and do not disturb the roots, because it can be invasive), peas, beans, and all the rest of the garden weeds and greens.

COVER THE TOP of the pile with three to four inches of garden soil, making a ridge around the outside edge to prevent the water from running off. Use a broom handle or iron bar to make air holes from the top, deep into the pile every eight inches or so, for ventilation and water. Top off the pile with two inches of shredded alfalfa hay. Water regularly to keep moistened.

CURED COMPOST

CURED COMPOST has almost all the nutrients the crops contained, and so many beneficial microbes that it is one of the best things you can do for your garden. It also contains enough humus to replenish your soil’s supply. Your compost is ready when it is dark, rich looking, broken down, crumbles in your hand and smells like clean earth. Parts of the compost pile along the outside edges that have not completely broken down will be removed when your pile is sifted and can be placed at the bottom, and between the layers of the next compost pile.

SIFTING COMPOST

SIFTING COMPOST is easily done by placing a 4 x 4 foot square of ½ inch wire mesh over your wheelbarrow and bending the edges over the sides. Then a shovel full of compost may be placed on top of the wire mesh and rubbed. The siftings fall into the wheelbarrow and the lumps will remain on top. One side of the wire can be lifted from the wheelbarrow and these clumps will fall to the ground into a pile. When you are done, these can be shoveled into a new compost pile, and be layered accordingly.

COMPOST PROBLEMS

PROBLEMS can occur if conditions are unfavorable. Some of the problems are:

BAD ODORS indicate that there is not enough air in your pile make more air holes in your pile, or turn the pile, or start a new one.

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