compost - Knowledgebase Question

Durant, OK
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Question by rcmt
March 20, 1998
How do I start a compost pile, what do I put in it, and how do I take care of it?

Answer from NGA
March 20, 1998
Aaah, you are about to embark on an adventure. You may find this hard to believe, but composting can actually be fun. The basics are these: You mix together organic matter, such as grass clippings, wood chips, hay, straw, manure, old plant vegetation from the garden, food scraps, etc., keep it moist by watering it, and keep air in the pile by mixing the materials every so often (called turning the pile), and sooner or later you'll get humus. You'll get it sooner if the materials are about two-thirds "dry" high-carbon stuff, such as wood shavings, straw and hay; and one-third "wet" high-nitrogen stuff, such as grass clippings, green vegetation and food scraps (minus meat and grease). It also will decompose faster if the pile is fairly large (at least 4' x 4' at the base and 3' high) so that the interior of the pile is insulated enough to heat up. It also will decompose faster during hot weather.

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 with advantages/disadvantages. You can start out with a simple bin made by rolling hardware cloth (wire mesh) into a cylinder, wiring the ends together, and setting it upright near your garden. After it's full, you can undo the wires and remove the hardware cloth, then set it up again next to your pile of materials. As you fork the materials into the cylinder, you'll be turning the pile and mixing in more oxygen for the microbes to use in decomposition. If you do this every couple of weeks, you'll speed up decomposition.

You can fuss around with your pile alot more than I've mentioned here, but I hope this gives you the general idea. To learn more, I recommend the book "Let It Rot" by Stu Campbell. It is a wealth of information for anyone interested in composting, lots of tips on whats, hows, whens, etc., and the information is presented in a humorous, friendly fashion. Who knows, prettysoon you may be asking for a compost thermometer for your birthday! Write back with any other questions you have. Good luck.

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