Everyone has a method to make compost. There are so many ways to make compost that it can seem difficult to do. Really, though, its very easy. The only difficult part is making compost happen fast. We don’t try real hard for that here. We work in one year cycles, and in a year, almost anything will decay and rot down to loamy, organic humus. That is, by definition, all that compost is. Organic material that has been decayed by microorganisms and worms and insects, pooped back out, and now exists as nutrient-rich loam. It is filled with all the good stuff plants need both on the major scale (N-K-P fertilizer ratio) and on the level of micro-nutrients and trace elements. Compost is a great soil conditioner; in the old days they would say “sweeten the soil with lots of decayed matter.” It promotes a good and healthy living ecosystem of beneficial organisms in the soil, and feeds plants better than anything else.
There are two ways to compost – active and passive. Active composting is where you carefully balance out the components of the compost, turn the materials regularly to oxygenate the materials, and water the pile frequently. The goal here is that human intervention helps to keep the bacterial action going, and the piles remains hot and steamy as a result. Heat in compost indicates a maximum amount of bacterial action breaking down your organic material into loam. This is great for folks needing a quick turn around (we’re talking a matter of a few weeks to a month or two when we speak of quick compost). This is the area where it can get difficult, laborious or frustrating. Keeping a compost pile hot and actively decomposing is sometimes not easy. There are hundreds of opinions on how to do this and loads of ideas on what products and additives can kick it off. I wouldn’t waste my money on those, personally. What it all comes down to is the “green/brown balance.”
Green additives to your compost pile are rich in nitrogen. These are the fresh and moist plant materials, coffee grounds, lawn clippings, seaweed, plant trimmings, weeds and other things that are inherently high in moisture and nitrogen. The “greens” are usually fresh and have their original water content at least partly retained. If all the water is gone and the organic stuff is dry, its likely classified as a ‘brown.’
Brown things introduce carbon to the compost pile. These are things that have dried up and are no longer lush, they are just carbon-rich organic material. Think wood chips, dry leaves, pine needles, cardboard, brown paper, coffee filters, straw, hay, twigs, newspaper, corn stalks, etc. If you balance your greens and browns, keep the pile moist (“moist” is usually described as a being like a squeezed out sponge), and if you turn it regularly to oxygenate the pile, you will have a hot and active compost pile. Microorganisms will be very active, generating heat and making loam.
But composting can be as easy or as hard as you wish. I do a lazy compost. While I have an active compost pile in a bin for stinky waste (its a large trash can), I also have several passive compost piles. I just pile up grass clippings either on the ground or in a hoop-bin made of hog-wire fence. In the spring, the oak tree sheds its leaves and I get an abundance of dry leaves and I toss them in too, but through the spring and especially in the summer, my compost hoops get filled with nothing but green grass clippings. Tons of them.
I came across a guy on Youtube who swears you can compost just grass clippings alone because, if you look at grass, its not all green. You get the dead blades and stems in the bag when you mow, so you have a mix of green and brown. I’m pretty convinced that you can get away composting grass alone, because I have done it. So that’s my lazy method. Every once in a while, if I am motivated, I’ll pull over the whole hog-wire hoop and the pile within, and then scoop it back into the wire hoop, watering it as I go. That really kicks off another microbial heat cycle in a dormant pile. But even if I do nothing, in a year, the bottom two thirds of that pile will be beautiful, loamy compost.
As a side note, in a hot pile, you can compost dead animals. This is especially useful if you have poultry or rabbits or have to take down the local squirrel raiders when they get too comfy with your veggies. I talk about composting animals here.
I use the top layer of my grass clipping piles for garden mulch. After the sun has dried the top layer, I skim it off with my pitch fork. That usually reveals a moist, yellowing layer underneath, indicating that the composting process is underway. In lawn clipping piles, you will often find white molds and fungi – that’s good stuff too. Keep it all and let it decompose. Its rich stuff.
Note – oak leaves take a long time to decompose. Most of my oak leaves end up finishing the decomposing process on the garden bed surface. Some things take longer than others.
That’s all there is to it, at least here. We don’t do much but pile organic material up, or put the stinky stuff in a bin, turn it every once in a while, mix it up, and come back for the black-gold in the early spring of the next season.
Here are some interesting compost links:
- In my video I mention Ray on composting leaves. View his video here.
- Joel Salatin on composting animals. Even if you don’t compost on this scale, this is an informative video.
- Small scale 14 day composting in a wheel barrow. If you have the desire for super-fast compost, this guy has the right idea. You can actually see the process here as he turns the compost frequently. He adds an organic fertilizer to gain calcium, but that sort of defeats the whole purpose of composting. Just add your egg shells to the compost.