The Q&A Archives: composting

Question: i want to start a compost pile,

i always have lots of potato, carrot , onion peels, and can get proably about 15 lbs of coffee/tea grounds per week, also about 20 dozen egg shells a week, how do i get this started for composting?

thank you marie jensen

Answer: Good for you! You are going to be thrilled when you have your very first batch of "Black Gold"! You are absolutely right, adding organic material will certainly improve your soil. My first recommendation is a book..."Let ItRot" by Stu Campbell. It is a wealth of information for anyone interested in composting. Lots of tips on whats, hows, whens, etc.

Anytime is a good time to start a compost pile. For a compost heap to work efficiently you need the correct ratio of carbon to nitrogen (approx. 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen). Don't worry--it doesn't have to be exact! We commonly refer to this as "green stuff" (nitrogen) and "brown stuff" (carbon). During summer and fall we have an abundance of grass clippings, weeds, vegetable waste (green stuff) and fallen leaves, straw, cornstalks (brown stuff). Just remember, it's best to layer a bit of "green stuff" in between larger layers of "brown stuff"!

You need enough material starting out to form a pile at least 3' x 3'. Smaller piles may not heat efficiently. So, gather whatever compostable stuff you can and just heap it up. Eventually you'll have a good sized pile.

There are all sorts of ways to construct your compost pile--a pile/heap, pit, container, ready made "composter", etc. There are many choices, each withadvantages/disadvantages. I've had success simply taking some chicken wire (or hardware cloth) and forming it into a cylinder, then setting it right next to the garden.

Temperature does affect composting but generally that refers to the temperature inside the pile. Different people use different numbers but you are looking for your pile to reach a temperature of 90-140F inside the pile. The heat is generated as decomposition occurs and microbes go to work. This hot temperature range is favorable to the most efficient microbes...the ones that do most of the work. (You don't want a temperature much higher than approx. 158F because higher than that for prolonged periods can destroy beneficial bacteria and fungi.)

This really isn't as complicated as it sounds--we composters are an enthusiastic lot and love to spread the word!

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