Why Using Decayed Organic Matter Is A Good Idea
Cut back on food waste and turn your kitchen scraps and yard waste into “black gold” that will condition, feed, and fertilize your garden.
Did you know that food scraps and yard waste together make up about 30% of what you throw away? Yep. Instead of sending to the landfills and releasing greenhouse gases, you can turn food and yard waste into compost instead.
If you have never composted before, you may be thinking that home composting is too complicated, smelly, and messy. Ok, these can be true if you are composting incorrectly, but with the right approach, it can be a simple thing to do to reduce your carbon footprint.
So, what is compost?
Read on to learn all you need to know about what gardeners call “black gold”.
What Is Compost?
Compost is simply decayed organic matter.
Um, ok, what the heck is “organic matter”?
Organic matter is a pretty wide-ranging label that includes food scraps from your kitchen, a dead houseplant, grass clippings, leaves, and other yard and garden waste.
When you mix a bunch of these items together in a compost bin or pile, they break down naturally into nutrient-rich fertilizer called humus (h yo͞oməs) that helps your garden grow.
It is rich in nutrients and is used in gardens, landscaping, house plants, and organic farming. It is used as a soil conditioner, fertilizer, and as a natural pesticide for soil.
Compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments. If you are striving for a green garden, making your own compost instead of using commercial fertilizers is key for an eco-friendly garden.
Ok, now the not as simple explanation:
The decaying organic matter goes through a chemical and biological transformation that is being done by microorganisms, insects, and earthworms. The end product produces compost.
The decaying occurs when these organisms eat organic matter and excrete it. This system goes through numerous chemical changes which result in rich, dark and crumbly soil. Compost has a higher concentration of beneficial microbes than ordinary soil and dirt.
Benefits of Compost
- Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
- It is a great natural fertilizer that reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
- Reduces food waste sent to landfills, which reduces methane emissions and lowers your carbon footprint.
What Is Compost Used For?
Decomposed organic material provides many essential nutrients for plant growth and health. This is why it’s used as a fertilizer and soil conditioner for gardens and plants.
Compost is used to:
- Improve soil structure so it can easily hold the correct amount of moisture, nutrients, and oxygen.
- Improve the texture of both clay and sandy soils, making them richer and moisture retentive.
- Create a healthful environment for plants.
Black gold is also used to improve your flower and herb gardens, top dress your lawn, feed your growing veggies, and improve potted plants.
What Does Compost Do For Soil?
- Improves soil structure
- Adds nutrients
- Adds beneficial microbes
- Reduces plant diseases
- Nourishes soil organisms
- Balances soil pH
Types Of Composting- How Is Compost Made?
Cold compost is also known as passive composting. This process takes longer to decompose and turn into compost. It can take a year or more for the organic matter to be ready to use as compost in your yard.
If you are cold composting, you simply add organic materials from your kitchen and yard into a pile somewhere in your yard. Preferably near your garden. Bury kitchen scraps in the center of the pile to deter insects and animals.
Avoid weeds that seed as cold compost piles won’t reach high temperatures that are needed to kill weed seeds. The seeds can germinate and grow in a cold pile.
For the materials to break down it is vital you have the right ingredients in your pile. You will need:
- Two parts of materials with high carbon. Think shredded, dry plant matter such as leaves, twigs, woody stems, corn cobs, straw. Avoid hay that has seeds.
- One part materials with high nitrogen. Think green plant and vegetable refuse, grass clippings, trimmings, kitchen scraps, good quality soil.
Just add materials to the cold pile and let it do its magic.
Hot compost is also known as active composting. It is the quickest way to produce compost. It is known as a “hot” pile because it can reach an internal temperature of 160°F. So essentially, a hot pile cooks weeds, seeds, and disease-causing organisms.
The size of the pile, ingredients, and how it is arranged are key to how hot the pile gets and how active the pile is. An ideal hot compost pile should be a 4-foot cube. Keep in mind that a pile will shrink as the ingredients decompose.
There is a little more work on your part for a hot pile. The ingredients are the same, two parts high carbon materials to one part high nitrogen materials, but there is more to it than just piling it all together.
Pile the ingredients like a layer cake, or as I like to call it, compost lasagna. You will place carbon materials on the bottom, cover the layer with soil, add nitrogen-based materials, followed by soil. Repeat until the pile reaches 2 to 3 feet high.
Once the pile is made, soak it with water to start the decomposition process. Water it periodically so it remains damp (not wet).
A hot compost pile also needs oxygen so add air to the interior by punching holes in its sides or by pushing 1 to 2-foot lengths of hollow pipe into it.
You can check the temperature of the pile with a compost thermometer or an old kitchen thermometer. You are wanting a temperature of 110°F to 140°F. Your pile should steam if you poke your pitchfork into the middle. If it needs more heat, add nitrogen-rich materials or organic fertilizer. If you ever notice a foul odor, flip the compost to get air circulating.
Once a week, turn the pile to keep it active and cooking. Move materials from the center of the pile to the outside. Depending on how fast you want fresh compost, turn every other week for compost in 1 to 3 months, for compost within a month, turn it every couple of days.
Worm composting is also known as vermiculture and it is the process of creating compost using worms.
Yep, you read that right.
Worms, specifically Red Wigglers (a type of earthworm), are used to recycle food scraps and other organic material into vermicompost, or worm compost.
The worms eat food scraps, which pass through the worm’s body, they secrete, and it becomes compost. Vermicompost is good for plants and soil as it is nutrient-rich.
A compost bin is something you can buy online, at your local hardware store or garden center. You can find premade bins for cold piles or bins that are specifically made to create a hot pile.
What to look for in a composter:
- Size: How big is your household? How often will you have time to empty it? Turn it? Etc. Choose a bin that will fit your needs
- Features: Will you need a bin for a cold pile or a hot pile? Want odor control? Weatherproof? Durable? Choose a bin that has the features you will need.
- Ease of Use: How much time and effort do you want to put into composting? Find a compost bin that will help you cut down on waste efficiently.
What You Can Compost
In Your Kitchen:
- Fruit scraps
- Vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Loose tea
- Compostable tea bags
- Dry goods (crackers, flour, spices)
- Pasta (cooked and uncooked)
- Pizza boxes without food or grease
- Compostable napkins, plates, and utensils
In Your Yard:
- Grass clippings
- Plant clippings
- Dry leaves
- Finely chopped wood and bark chips
- Sawdust from untreated wood
What Can’t Be Composted
These items should never be added to your compost pile as they can attract animals and pests. They also cause your compost pile to smell foul. Avoid these items for a successful compost pile:
In Your Kitchen:
- Meat and fish
- Animal fats
- Ashes from your grill
- Oils and grease
- Dairy products
In Your Yard:
- Sawdust from treated lumber
- Diseased plant materials
- Weeds that go to seed
- Dog, cat, and human feces (use chicken, horse, cow, and rabbit manure in your garden instead)
Conclusion Of Composting At Home
Reduce food waste and yard waste by composting. Have a kitchen compost bin and an area outdoors for an outdoor compost bin or pile to help reduce your carbon footprint.
Be sure to compost the right materials to make “black gold” that you can use in your garden, flower garden, lawn, and potted plants.
Composting does not have to be complicated. With this guide, you will be creating beautiful, nutrient-rich compost in no time.
Black Gold: The Best Soil Conditioner and Soil Amendment That You Can Make From Food Waste
Do you compost? What method do you use? Share in the comments