Two Secrets to Great Compost!

by Sandy Swegel

How to make bad compost:

You need the right proportions of greens and browns to get the metabolic process going.  Too much brown and nothing happens.  Too much green and you either get slime or the greens just turn brown.

You need the right amount of water. Too little water (rainfall is not enough in Colorado to make compost) and everything is still whole and undigested a year later.  Too much rainfall….in Louisiana we had to cover the compost to keep the rain out…and it’s just putrefying sludge.

Air is important too. I had a burly housemate who made a huge pile and stomped on everything to make it fit.  Dry compressed leaves and debris were in pile two years later.

Weather conditions change how the pile works….my cold compost pile…you keep throwing things on top—quit working during last year’s drought pile.  No rainfall most of the summer and frugal amounts of chlorinated water weren’t enough to keep the pile going.  Everything just dried out including the worms.

So after so many failed piles and attempts to do things right, I have found two sure-fire ways to make great compost.

One.  Eat your fruits and vegetables.  Nothing keeps compost going better than little nests of your household food scraps put into the center of your pile every few days.  Don’t scatter it all over…just a little metabolic engine of food decomposition at the center of the pile helps everything else compost.  You can keep putting your weeds and debris on top…but just add food scraps to the middle when you have them.  Variety seems to help.  One year I thought I could keep the pile happy with all the zucchini bats….nope…the microbes and worms want variety—some banana peels and eggshells, maybe some moldy bread and coffee grounds.

Two. Use a good starter.

Never completely empty your compost….always leave some at the bottom of your pile to provide the microbes for the next batch.  But if your pile still isn’t thriving, it might need some starter from somewhere else. Occasional shovels of soil from the garden helps, but sometimes our soil isn’t as rich in microbes as we’d like.  Then you need a generous friend with a great compost pile.  A bucket of good active moist compost from a living pile will inoculate your entire pile.  It’s like making sourdough or yogurt….you need the starter.  And somebody else’s compost is better than any dried up compost starter you buy in the store.

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