The Q&A Archives: composting

Question: Hi, I've just started composting. I'm using a garbage can and a two brown to one green ratio. I have maggots in the can! Yuck!! I'm going to start over... any suggestions? Thanks so much.

Answer: You don't need to start over. The larvae of the Soldier Fly and those of the common House Fly are very similar, but they need a very moist environment to live and grow in. A dessicant, something that will suck the moisture from the compost can help (Blood Meal for instance) and adding more, dryer material will also help eliminate them.

Your ratio of 2 parts brown to one part green is a little low. You need more carbon and shredded newspapers are a handy source of carbon at this time of year. In the fall you can use shredded leaves.

Organisms that decompose organic matter use carbon as a source of energy and nitrogen for building cell structure. They need more carbon than nitrogen. If there is too much carbon, decomposition slows when the nitrogen is used up and some organisms die. Other organisms form new cell material using their stored nitrogen. In the process more carbon is burned. Thus the amount of carbon is reduced while nitrogen is recycled. Decomposition takes longer, however, when the initial C:N ratio is much above 30.

Since organisms use about 30 parts carbon for each part of nitrogen, an initial C:N (available quantity) ratio of 30 promotes rapid composting and would provide some nitrogen in an immediately available form in the finished compost.

For reference, the following are some sample C:N ratios of organic matter:

Sandy loam (fine) 7:1
Humus 10:1
Food scraps 15:1
Alfalfa hay 18:1
Grass clippings 19:1
Rotted manure 20:1
Sandy loam (coarse) 25:1
Vegetable trimmings 25:1
Oak leaves 26:1
Leaves, varies from 35:1 to 85:1
Peat moss 58:1
Corn stalks 60:1
Straw 80:1
Pine needles 60:1 to 110:1
Farm manure 90:1
Alder sawdust 134:1
Sawdust weathered 3 years 142:1
Newspaper 170:1
Douglas fir bark 491:1
Sawdust weathered 2 months 625:1

Hope this information is helpful!

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