Planetous Guide to Composting
The dos and don’ts of composting
Getting the ingredients right
What you toss into your compost pile influences the product you get a lot. And much more than the product is influences the process. Generally all the trash we put is divided into carbon rich or nitrogen rich material; often referred to as the greens and the browns. The greens or the nitrogen rich material such as manures, food scraps, green lawn clippings, kitchen waste and green leaves gives the pile enzymes, density and moisture. It keeps the reaction going but too much of it can make the pile a slow decomposing soggy mass. On the other hand, the browns such as branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust pellets, shredded brown paper bags, corn stalks, coffee filters aerate the pile and give compost a light fluffy body. Its keeps the stink away, infuses the earthy smell and absorbs the excess moisture from the greens. For a perfect compost result, we try to keep a carbon to nitrogen ratio of around 30:1. So we went through a list C:N ratio of the browns and the greens and deduced that one part greens and one part browns is a good way to get that healthy ratio. So whenever you add kitchen waste to your pile sprinkle over almost equal amount of browns to get it right.
If not turned frequently, the centre of the pile may get too hot for the microbes and over the time the airflow through the pile also reduces significantly.
What not to compost?
Although, milk, dairy meats and fats are all compostable products, but adding these to pile may stink it up. Besides, pet poop is also a big no as they may invite pathogens and hence diseases. Although bird and chicken droppings are good enough and can be added. Further not to mention, even the tiniest bits of dry wastes such as metals glass or plastics, should never end up into your pile.
Particle size and Moisture
The compost bin/ pile should be moist i.e. It should be moist enough to bind together into balls but should easily crumble under light pressure. Keep the pile protected from rains or if you use a bin, cover it. Water lightly if it seems too dry. Moisture keep the reaction going inside but too much of it can make the reaction too sluggish because there is no aeration.
Try to keep chunks small especially for the vegetable waste, because smaller the particle, easier is the breakdown. Smaller waste bits provide larger surface area for the microbes to act. We have kept our old grinder jar for the giving a quick pulse to the fresh scraps. This speeds up the decomposition process miraculously. Although keep in mind that it should not form a paste as that will prevent airflow and hence the decomposition. You can also use garden scissors to chop up big chunks to the size that suits you.
Temperature and aeration
Finally, after the pile has been set up, right temperature and aeration can help getting desired results in the least time. As discussed above, temperatures control the various stages of decomposition and turning the pile is important for both controlling the temperatures and promoting aeration. If not turned frequently, the centre of the pile may get too hot for the microbes and over the time the airflow through the pile also reduces significantly. Hence keep turning the pile from time to time.
Compost Guide References:
1. Barbara Pleasant , Deborah L Martin, 2008; The complete compost gardening guide,Storey Publishing; Illustrated edition.