Composting For Sustainable Organic Gardening

CENTER OF PILE IS DRY means there is not enough water in your pile. Make more air holes, and fill them with water, and the water will disperse throughout the pile.

PILE IS DAMP BUT ONLY WARM IN THE MIDDLE indicates that your pile is too small. Increase the size of your pile to at least four feet high and four feet wide.

PILE IS DAMP AND SWEET SMELLING, BUT REMAINS COOL indicates a lack of nitrogen, not enough green matter or manure. Cover the pile with black plastic for a few days, but be careful not to cook all your microbes. The pile also may need more water.

SPEEDING UP COMPOSTING

TO SPEED UP THE COMPOSTING PROCESS and increase the decomposition rate you can add extra nitrogen, fishmeal or blood meal, to your layers. Using a metal rod to make holes in your pile will increase the amount of oxygen and stimulate aerobic activity. You can also shred your components fine, which causes faster decomposition. Compost innoculants can also be used to add nitrogen fixing, decomposing, and other soil bacteria, enzymes and hormones.

VERMI-COMPOSTING

VERMI-COMPOSTING is another organic gardening technique, which uses earthworms to make compost, which will be rich in organic matter and worm castings, and is one of the best soil builders available. Worms can eat their body weight daily in organic matter and convert it into dark, soil enriching castings full of live micro organisms, growth hormones, and nutrients, humic acids which condition the soil, and a neutral pH. Worm castings are free from disease pathogens, which are killed in the process. They prefer a temperature range of 60 to 70 degrees, but will tolerate 32 – 84 degrees. They require a moist, pesticide free environment with plenty of organic matter to eat. There are two types of Vermicomposting, indoor and outdoor.

OUTDOOR VERMI-COMPOSTING, ABOVE OR BELOW THE GROUND

ABOVE THE GROUND BIN: composting red worms are an excellent addition to a compost pile. The worms help to process the pile by eating the decayed matter and turn the waste into fine topsoil in approximately 2 to 3 months, depending on the quantity of worms introduced into the pile, the outside temperatures, and the time of year. A compost heap that is 4 x 4 x 4 should have a minimum of 3,000 to 10,000 worms introduced into the pile – about two pounds. Add them to your compost pile when it has broken down and is warm but not hot in the center. Dig down about a foot and add the worms. Keep the pile moistened, but not soggy wet. This pile will be your “breeding area”.

WHEN YOU WANT TO REMOVE some of the worms for next compost pile, begin feeding the worms at one spot near the edge, and when the worms move to this area after a few days, add some of the worms to your other compost pile. At this time you can also remove some of the soil and worm castings for your garden lowering your pile a foot or so. Keep feeding the worms in the breeding area by adding greens and shredded alfalfa hay to the top of the pile every few weeks. Be sure to add four or five inches of shredded alfalfa hay for winter protection, and keep the pile moistened, but not wet.

BELOW THE GROUND BIN: Dig a 2×8 foot trench two or three feet deep into the ground below frost level. Place a six-inch layer of peat moss and shredded newspaper or cardboard on the bottom, and water until evenly moistened, but not soggy wet.

FILL THE BIN ¾ full with a mixture of 2/3 corrugated cardboard and 1/3 sphagnum peat moss, shredded newspaper, shredded leaves, or shredded alfalfa hay, add a little crumbled aged or composted manure, and a cup or so of fine sand mixed with equal parts of wood ashes, and ground limestone. Mix well, moisten, and add two to three inches of a mix of finely chopped vegetal kitchen wastes, garden waste, and aged manure to one end of the pit.

ADD ONE POUND of red compost worms, which can be ordered through the mail. (When your worms first arrive they may be dehydrated, you can feed them a light dusting of corn meal before you cover them.)

LOOSELY COVER worms/waste with a 2-inch layer with shredded alfalfa hay. Water and feed two or three times a week – adding vegetable waste under the alfalfa layer to keep the process going. Each time you feed your worms place the waste mix next to the previous feeding area, working your way toward the opposite end of the pit. When you get to the end of the pit, feed back towards the beginning. As you continue these layers and reach the top, leave a four-inch space between the cover and the mixture for ventilation.

COVER THE TOP of the pit with a sheet of plywood to keep out the elements and critters, and weight down with rocks.

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