The last few years has seen a significant movement toward growing plants organically; meaning that there is no use of pesticides or synthetic chemicals in the planting process. The foundation of any garden is healthy soil and composting is a great way to improve the quality of your soil. Compost is simply recycled organic material and it helps improve soil structure as well as helping to reduce trash that often ends up in landfills. Many people think that composting is a complicated process that requires a lot of space but the reality is that composting can be done in even the smallest of spaces. It can be as simple as starting a pile in a corner of your yard or, if you prefer, you can purchase a container made specifically for this purpose but if you follow the correct “recipe” you too can make compost in as few as 6 months.

There are three key components that are needed to create compost. The first component is warmth. Heat is a key element to helping organic materials break down into compost and the greater the heat that is generated in the composting process the faster the compost is created. The second key component to the composting process is moisture. Just like human beings the organisms in a compost pile need water to fuel their activity. The final critical element in the composting process is air. To better illustrate this think about the importance of oxygen in the creation of a fire. One way to put out a fire is to smother it and by doing so eliminating oxygen in the process. The same concept holds true with composting. The heat in the composting process is generated by the breakdown of the organic materials and the heating process is accelerated by frequently turning the composting material and increasing the oxygen in the process.

Successful composting also requires that right mixture of ingredients. These ingredients are usually defined as brown vs. green material. Brown materials include leaves, straw, mulch, pine needles, etc. Green materials include grass and kitchen scraps such as coffee grains, egg shells, fruits and vegetables. The best “recipe” for compost is the subject of some debate but most successful composters suggest that the ratio of brown to green material be at least 2 parts brown material to one part green material and to create even greater heat in the compost pile 3 parts brown material to 1 part green material is suggested. These ratios are important as too much green material results in a high nitrogen content which will result in a less than desirable odor. A properly maintained compost pile should not have an unpleasant odor to it.

Equally important as what you put in a compost pile is what you should leave out of it. You want to avoid putting any diseased planting materials as the disease may survive the composting process and can be passed on to any plantings where the compost is used. You also want to avoid putting weeds on your pile as their seeds can survive if the compost pile doesn’t get heated enough. Finally you don’t want to add any meat, bones or dairy products as these take a long time to break down and they may attract “critters” such as raccoons to your pile.  So now that you know the “recipe” why not try cooking up so of your own compost.

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