Growing a greener garden is part science, part art, and part chance. There isn’t much you can do about the element of chance – the weather might be ideal one year and disastrous the next. Then there are those people who just seem to have a knack for producing the prettiest blooms and heartiest plants. But even if you weren’t blessed with a proverbial green thumb, you can have a healthier garden if you understand some of the science behind growing things.
With all the interest in green, environmentally friendly methods, composting is a great way to utilize kitchen and lawn waste to produce the perfect soil additive without chemical fertilizers. Producing your own compost just makes sense because the ingredients are free and you’ll be making the most of materials that would otherwise go down your garbage disposal or worse, become part of the mountain of trash at a landfill.
There are several different styles of compost structures, from free-standing piles that can be manually turned over, to pre-fabricated rotating bins. The size of your compost pile will depend on the size of your yard and on the amount of waste material your lawn and kitchen produce. Compost piles should not exceed around six feet in height because if the pile is too high, decomposition will not occur at the deeper layers. Also, if a compost heap is too tall or massive, it will be difficult to turn over.
Turning over your compost is a method of mixing the layers which will be at different stages of decomposition. This is accomplished with a simple pitchfork or shovel. Pitchforks are the best tool for composting since they are not as heavy or cumbersome as shovels. Garden rakes are typically not durable enough for the job, since decomposing compost becomes quite weighty.
In order for decomposition to occur, your compost pile must include both green and brown material. Green matter refers to any fresh waste material such as green leaves, grass clippings, fresh wood chips, and vegetable, fruit or other organic scraps. Brown matter includes dead branches, dried wood chips, dried pine cones and needles, and even shredded paper scraps. A word of caution: do not add meat, fat or oil to your compost pile since this will attract vermin as well as create quite a stench!
If your compost pile includes this combination of materials and is at least a foot or more in depth, with time, the magic of decomposition will turn what would otherwise be trash into a rich soil additive. You can tell that decomposition is occurring by reaching your hand deep into the pile. If the center of the heap feels much hotter than the surface, that means the magic of decomposition has begun. In fact, the center of your compost heap should be nearly too hot to touch.
You might notice a variety of insects in and around your compost pile. Actually, at the hot center of the heap, instead of earthworms and beetles, tiny microorganisms will be doing the real work of breaking down material.
If you have a garden, your plants are sure to reward your composting efforts with brighter blooms and tastier treats.