This article was written and submitted by Wright County Extension Master Gardener, Gary Cobus.
One of the best natural fertilizers and soil builders is available free. You make it yourself. It’s compost!
You can create compost in your own backyard. Leaves, grass clippings, and even vegetable wastes from the kitchen are the building blocks of compost.
Making compost is simple and inexpensive. It is a little like making a lasagna -- a layer of this, a layer of that and then let the whole thing cook until it’s done.
The greatest thing about making your own compost is that you can’t really do it incorrectly. The worst thing that can happen is that it will take a longer time for your compost to be ready to use. Mostly you just want to speed up the process as much as you can. If it takes longer, so what? I never let that be an issue for me.
Vegetable kitchen wastes, including coffee grounds and egg shells -- even hair, feathers can be composted along with yard wastes. Items that should be kept out of compost include meat and bones, large amounts of sawdust, pet manure and, of course anything metallic or plastic.
The main recipe to make compost is:
Browns (Carbon sources):
corncobs and stalks
sawdust or wood shavings
Greens (High Nitrogen sources):
feathers or hair
Compost piles need to have a critical mass to work the best. You should have an initial pile of at least 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep by three feet tall. As the composting process proceeds you will end up with compost at about one third the size of what you started with.
Compost piles Also need water and oxygen.
The pile needs moisture but not too much. It should be moist but not soaking wet. Compost piles also need oxygen so that is why the pile should be turned occasionally – to get oxygen into the pile.
You can make compost in as little as a few weeks by constructing a pile or using a bin that heats the materials to more than 140 degrees, killing any weed seeds or harmful bacteria in manures. These piles are made by layering materials high in carbon (leaves, for example), with materials high in nitrogen (manure, alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal).
The classic organic gardener’s recipe for compost calls for a layer of vegetable matter about six inches thick, a layer of manure about two inches thick, then a thin layer of soil with ground limestone added. This compost lasagna is repeated until the pile is three to five feet high. A little depression is made in the top and it is watered. Serious composters often have several bins in a row where they collect and stockpile materials.
The smaller the pieces, the faster they will be broken down by the many types of bacteria that will go to work. A chipper or grinder is becoming an increasingly important piece of equipment for shredding soft materials for composting. Coarse, woody materials are also chipped and used as mulch on flower beds and around landscape plants.
In about two weeks, the bacteria will have reduced a lot of material in the pile to compost and caused it to heat up, but they probably will have run out of oxygen. The pile now needs to be turned to be aerated.
If you used a wire mesh, you can simply stand on top of the pile and pull it straight up and off. Then set it to one side and turn the pile into it. Depending upon your setup, you can turn the material into an adjacent bin or turn it within the bin itself. A three-side bin makes this easier.
Commercial compost machines available in garden centers often make this process easier by putting a drum or container on some kind of turning device.
So, give it a try – you have nothing to lose and good compost can be yours!