The Compost

by M. Arjoca,

Wood compost binsThe black gold for gardeners, is the result of controlled decomposition of organic matter. This means that any once-living being, plant or animal, is decomposed with the help of the bugs, worms, bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, in parts that become smaller and smaller until they are just substances that plants need for food.

It is very appreciated for its qualities.

In the first place it feeds the plants, giving them nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, carbon, magnesium, zinc, iron and other substances, making them grow and helping them to become stronger and resistant to diseases and pests.

It also stimulates the roots growing.

Another important role of the compost is that it makes a better soil not only giving good substances but, if the soil is too sandy, the compost makes it retain the water and drain properly. If the soil has too much clay, the compost looses it, the water drains better, the soil is more easy to work and more resistant to erosion.

If the soil is too acid or too alkaline the compost helps neutralize it.

It has the capacity to retain water and in the very warm days can be used as mulch to stop the rapid evaporation. On the other hand, in the cold days it can protect the roots from frost, giving them warmth.

There are a lot of advantages to make your own compost:

Wire compost binOnce you decided to make your own compost you need a location in garden where the decay takes its course efficiently, it is not an obstacle when you work and don't bother the neighbors and your family members. You can camouflage the compost growing around it tall plants or using other methods. Take care that your future compost place is not in an area where a lot of animals (dogs, cats) pass by, because their feces can transmit dangerous pathogens to humans.

Ideal is a place in an area with partial shade, where it's not too windy but the air can flow easily, the moisture (not too much) is kept and the temperature is sufficiently high.

You have to keep in sight that wooden structures rot in time if you want to make the pile near a wooden fence or wall.

After founding the „perfect“ place you need to decide what kind of structure to use for keeping the pile in place. If the available space is not large you can use different containers. You can buy a lot of special containers for composting. They can be from plastic or metal, with holes to let the air flows through, with trays and tops or with a handle for turning the materials etc.

Another method is to make compost in containers with the help of fermentation even inside the house (Bokashi).

Concrete compost structureThe advantage of these containers is that they can be used in small spaces and can be moved easy from a place to another.

If the space is large you can build different structures. For example, you can build wood boxes without bottoms, with or without tops, with a mobile side or without one side for having access when you want to turn the pile.

You can fix a circular or cubic wire structure or a box with more spaces so you can make more piles in time.

You can build even a permanent structure from concrete or stones if you want.

The most simple method is to make just a pile without any structure around it, but  in this case exists the risk that the materials will scatter around and the mice or other animals will have easy access. Plus the aspect is not so pretty.

Compost pileWhen the compost stays directly on the ground the advantage is that microorganisms from soil and earthworms have directly access to it, unlike the compost in closed containers.

Another simple method to make compost is to gather materials and to put them in a black plastic bag. You add a shovel with earth and some water but not too much. Make holes from place to place, tie the bag and let it stay in a place where don't bother you. Every two weeks shake the bag or turn the materials with a hand tool. In a few months the compost will be ready.

What kind of materials can be used? There are a lot of articles about materials, substances they gave, and their role in the process of making compost. The idea is that the decomposition can be done aerobic with the help of some microorganisms that need air (you make the compost in a wood or wire structure and you turn it from time to time) or can be done anaerobic with the help of microorganisms which don’t need air for living (you make the compost in a non aerated container).

In the first case the decay is realized faster and no bad smells are emanated, but you have to turn the materials from time to time (every week or every two weeks) to let the air come into the pile.

In the second case it is done slowly and are emanated bad smells, but the materials are decomposed to smaller dimensions and you don't have to turn the pile. You can let it stay until it becomes compost.

Compost bagHere is an article about these two types of composting.

The microorganisms that make compost need carbon (gives energy and its oxidation produce warmth), nitrogen for growth and reproduction, oxygen and some water.

The materials which contain carbon tend to be brown: paper, cardboards, tree bark, straw, corn stalks, sawdust, coffee grounds, manure from cows, horses, chickens etc. The materials which contain nitrogen tend to be green: grass, alfalfa, vegetable scraps, fruit shells etc.

There are a lot of articles about the compost materials, about their role and about how to lay them (you can pile them up in layers). Generally you can put 2-3 parts of brown materials and 1 part of green materials.

Even if you want or not to show your artistic talent in making compost, it makes by itself anyway. It is important to put in the pile different materials, to mix them up, to turn them from time to time and if the outside temperature is too high sprinkle water more often so the moisture can be kept. If you live in an area with low temperature and many rains, the pile can be covered.

Compost materials in a plastic bagTo the compost pile can go biodegradable materials: fruit and vegetable scraps, grass, leaves, twigs, paper, cardboard, eggshells, tree bark, straw, corn stalks, weeds, sawdust, coffee grounds, tea bags, manure from cows, horses, chicken, food scraps, algae etc. It's not recommended to put dead animals, meat, bones, grease or oil, because they emanate smells and attract different animals. Also don't put feces from cats, dogs, pigs or men because they can transmit dangerous pathogens to humans. Don't put the ashes from glossy magazines, from coals, pampers, plastic or other non biodegradable or toxic materials.

If the materials you put in the pile are in smaller pieces, the decay process realizes faster. This way in a few months you will have compost.