The local Payson Community Garden recently held a “How to” class for Composting!
Glen McCombs from Plant Fair Nursery here in Payson provided the basic information for everyone to digest (pun intended!). I am going to outline a few of these simple techniques in order to share the wealth with all you gardeners out there.
Our Local Community Garden has done a lot of Composting to bring their 200 plots into a productive state! Tons of wood chips, manure (Horse and Llama!), grass cuttings and leaves have been trucked into the garden for everyone’s use. Last years plant waste was also added to one of our Compost piles. Wood chips are multi-purpose, they have been used in both composting as well as in walkways to prevent weed growth.
Simple to Sophisticated
You can start your composting as simply as piling leaves in a corner of your yard. The decay process will eventually kick in and you will have mulch. Of course, there may be wind and you could lose your mulch into your neighbors yard!
The First Step
To avoid losing your mulch to the forces of nature, the first thing one must do is to corral it so it does not blow away. This can be as simple as using chicken wrapped around four stakes in the ground. It can also involve purchased, made for mulching, plastic containers, constructing 3 wooden bins with removeable sideboards so that you can place new material in one, partially decomposed in another, and finished compost in the last!
Let’s talk about some different Systems. Advantages and Disadvantages!
Slow Pile – Easiest one there is, start a pile and leave it. Low Maintenance! Problem is it can blow away. If it doesn’t blow away, it can make your yard look messy and could take a year or so to develop compost.
Hot Outdoor Pile – Pile, add water, turn often, build heat as quickly as possible. It will kill weed seeds, is nutrient rich, does not attract animals and flies, but will need a lot of effort to turn and aerate. Works best if you have a lot of material to start with!
Bins and Boxes – Nice and neat. These areas will hold heat easily, keep animals away, if turned often it will decompose quickly. Covered bins will keep water out. It will cost you to build these however but in the long run your significant other will not yell at you as much as the first two methods!
Tumblers – These babies are self contained and not messy. They can produce compost fairly quickly and are pretty easy to aerate when you turn the tumbler. Odor…no problem. On the downside, these units can cost you a fair amount, and not provide a whole lot of compost. But they look cool and people will think you know what you’re doing!
Pit Composting – Dig a hole, put stuff in, turn it over every once in a while. How much simpler does this get? On the other hand unless you don’t want a big pit in your yard that attracts flies and animals, it won’t give you what you want. You might also get the neighbors mad, especially if it’s right up against their yard.
Plastic or Metal Garbage Can – Easy to do in a small space, can be done all year long, can be kept indoors and requires very little work. This method makes it hard to aerate and can be smelly, attract bugs and get slimy if you don’t put the right dry leaf mix in!
Worm Composter – You need to like worms for this one. You can get a nutrient rich mix that will make your plants grow like crazy. You can do this indoors and can add plant materials continuously. Food waste is the main ingredient. You need to protect your pet worms however. They do not like temperature extremes and you will worry about your pet worms every time you forget to feed them!
Natural Activators for a Compost Pile that Doesn’t Heat Up
One of the issues with composting is that in some climates heat generation does not occur. Try adding the following activators to get the heat started;
1)Alfalfa meal (the best) Sold as “Litter Green” Kitty litter, or pelletized rabbit food (can be found in 50 lb bags).
2) Blood Meal
3) Bone Meal
4) Cottonseed Meal
5) Dry dog food
6) Already finished compost
Caution: In some hot climates large piles of compost have been known to spontaneously combust. Use caution when locating your compost pile. Keep away from burnable materials or buildings.
Sources: Thanks to these guys for their expertise!
Let it Rot! – Stu Campbell
Down to Earth Gardening Know How for the 90’s – Dick Raymond
Don’t Waste your Waste! Use it for Compost!