How do we make good compost? You hear gardeners rave about compost and its benefits all the time. And we’ll touch on those benefits today…but what we really want to know is how to make this premium compost everyone is always talking about. It’s not hard and no special tools are required. Anyone can turn their average compost pile into a supercharged one. I have 5 key aspects of composts that if you can understand and follow their principles, you’ll have access to some of the best compost you’ve ever had!
Nutrient Deposits and withdrawals
Most of us treat our compost piles like a nutrient bank. A place to store slow-release nutrients in the form of kitchen scraps and yard waste then let them morph into a usable product to apply to our gardens. It’s a system that works and has many benefits.
For sure the addition of compost to your garden is going to add in some slow-release nutrients as we talked about, but it’s also going to improve drainage, water retention, aeration, and most importantly the microbiology of your soil.
You see a finely tuned compost is disproportionately higher in beneficial microbes and bacteria, it kind of has to be able to break down those raw materials so fast.
What ingredients make good compost?
Alright, so what are the components that make great compost? Well, you see compost is only made up of five ingredients: air, water, organic matter, minerals and nutrients, and microorganisms.
The balance of these parts interacting with each other is what allows your compost to function at a high level. Same with our soils plants grow and flourish with the right ratios of air, water, and nutrients.
And those three ingredients are facilitated by the levels of organic matter and microorganisms. So you can start to see the connection now.
Start to see why we need to look at our compost as an extension of our garden soils.
Ok great but what makes a good compost? How are we going to convert these grass clippings and bucket loads of kitchen scraps to yummy viable compost? Well, there are five factors that are going to determine our success.
5 Key factors that make compost a good compost
1. Aeration (air)
Your compost is working at its highest efficiency when it’s in an aerobic state. This means, the profile is aerated and the microbes have access to oxygen.
There’s a lot of life within the compos itself that facilitates this aeration, but we can also do our part by keeping the next factor in check and that’s moisture.
2. Moisture helps to make a good compost
Microbes and bacteria in our compost need moisture to survive. They need it to continue to break down those raw materials into a usable form. Like anything though there’s always a risk of too much of a good thing.
A compost that is too soggy or drains poorly is gonna quickly grow anaerobic and that’s when we get into trouble. The whole process sort of just stops and your compost will begin to smell.
Keep the compost moist but not soaking wet and you’ll be okay.
Not really something that we can control but the speedier compost and its internal temperature are directly related. Don’t be surprised if your compost slows down in the winter and your raw materials begin to build up.
The compost itself can generate its own heat; however, the internal temperatures are much higher than the surrounding air. With your air, water, and temperatures all figured out we get to the big one.
4. The carbon-nitrogen ratio
The one factor that’s completely under our control and that’s the CN or carbon to nitrogen ratio.
Basically the desired ratio of brown or carbon sources. Things such as dry leaves, branches, cardboard, newspaper, and other dried organic matter.
Measured against a lesser amount of green or nitrogen sources. Things like food scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, and fresh garden waste including spent crops.
The ideal is around 30 to 1 carbon to nitrogen. Too much nitrogen and our piles are going to burn out causing ammonia gas and undesirable odors.
Too little nitrogen in our ratio and the compost is going to slow right down. With optimal processing becoming impossible.
Shoot for a 30 to 1 CN ratio by weight but whenever you’re in doubt air on the side of too much carbon.
5. Cover it up!
Lastly, one component that is so important in our gardens that we often forget about in our compost is a cover. Just like the soils in our garden exposed top layers of compost are rarely functioning at a high level.
The baking sun and beating rain do a number on our garden soils and our composts are no different. A layer of grass clippings makes an excellent compost cover.
You know a sort of mulch to keep the desiccation and erosion at bay. I like to leave my compost bins open to rainfall and air. So I avoid hardcovers and plastics directly.
Just like we diligently cover our gardens and garden beds our compost can benefit from a little protection.
I definitely got my work cut out for me today as I likely need at least eight to ten wheelbarrows of compost to refill my garden beds.
Compost is no doubt a precious commodity in any garden and once you get a taste of the good stuff there never seems to be enough.
Great compost is a successful transformation of a heterogeneous bulky organic matter into a fine homogeneous wonder product. These five factors are going to ensure you get the most out of your compost, benefiting your garden and your plants. Happy growing guys!
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