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Compost• Organic matter that has gone through a period of decomposition.• Finished compost is a dark brown, crumbly material with an earthy smell. The original organic materials are no longer recognizable.
Amendments• Materials added to the soil to improve it in some way for plant growth.• May be organic: compost, leaf mold, composted manure, peat moss, soil conditioner• Or inorganic: lime, sulfur, green sand, fertilizer, sand
Mulch• Any material spread over the soil surface.• May be organic or inorganic.• Organic mulches provide many benefits: Reduce weeds Conserve soil moisture Moderate soil temperature Prevent compaction Provide nutrients/encourage earthworms
Why Compost?• Recycling organic yard waste reduces materials going into municipal waste streams and landfills.• Save money not purchasing organic matter from nurseries.• May be the best organic matter for bed preparation.
A Natural Process of Decay• Happens on the forest floor• In lawn• When organic mulch is used• Prevents the world from being overwhelmed by organic matter• Carried out primarily by naturally occurring fungi and bacteria
Controlled Composting• Speeds up the process through proper management.• What is the most important thing to understand about composting….?
It’s not a Pile – It’s a Pet• The transformation of organic matter to compost is carried out by living organisms – mostly fungi and bacteria.• Everything we do in composting caters to the needs of these living organisms to help them work more efficiently.
So, what do they need? • Large surface areas • Air/Oxygen • Food • Water
Large Surface Areas• Chopping or grinding organic matter greatly enhances the composting process.• Smaller particles expose more surface area to the action of the microorganisms.• This allows the fungi and bacteria to more rapidly decay the organic matter.
Air/Oxygen• The microorganism we want to be active in the process need oxygen to live. They are aerobic organisms.• We do not want microorganisms that live in an oxygen-free environment – anaerobic organisms. They stink.• So, the compost pile should not be too dense or stay too wet.
Air/Oxygen• To ensure adequate oxygen, piles are enclosed by ventilated sides.• Piles may be turned.• Maintain proper moisture.
Food• The organic matter in the pile is the food the microorganisms eat.• This is where the carbon:nitrogen ratio comes into play: 30 to 1.• Various organic materials have different ratios of carbon to nitrogen they contain.• Roughly divided into “brown” materials and “green” materials.
Brown: High Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio• Cardboard, shredded………...350:1• Leaves……………………………..60:1• Newspaper, shredded………..175:1• Peanut shells…………………….35:1• Pine needles……………………..80:1• Sawdust……………………………325:1• Straw……………………………….75:1• Wood chips………………………400:1
Diversity, Diversity, Diver sit y , Diversity• The more different types of organic matter you put into the compost, generally the better.• But, try to include some of the browns and some of the greens as you build your pile, whenever possible.
But…• Be cautious about relying on recipes• Gardens rarely generate organic materials in proportions matching recipes.• It’s generally better to be flexible, but mindful.
High Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio• Add some nitrogen fertilizer – commercial or organic (blood meal, cotton seed meal)• Or some low carbon/nitrogen ratio material, such as manure.• Should be composted before adding to the garden.
Low Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio• Add high carbon/nitrogen ratio material, such as shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard or ground wood.• Turn frequently.
Water• Dry organic matter will not decompose.• Fungi and bacteria must have water to decompose organic matter.• You may need to water a pile occasionally. Rain helps much of the year.• Not too wet.
Making Compost• Enclose the pile, no need for expensive compost bins, but you can use them.• Chop organic matter.• Add nitrogen if the organic matter is low in nitrogen• Keep the pile moist – not soggy.• Turn the pile if possible.• Harvest when the organic matter has turned into a dark brown, crumbly material.
Some Like it Hot• Well constructed and maintained compost piles can achieve remarkably high temperatures• Around 140 to 16 0 degrees F• Carried out by thermophilic organisms• Temperatures this high can kill weed seeds and disease organisms• But, can’t always be relied on
Compost Starters• Are they really necessary?• They are certainly not critical to the process, but feel free to give them a try.• Shovel of soil.
Safety Concerns• Some issues with fresh manures and bacteria, such as E. coli.• Compost fresh manure. Incorporate it.• Do not topdress with fresh manure.• Leafy vegetables eaten raw. Wash.
Using Compost• Outstanding amendment for bed preparation.• Great addition to potting mixes.• Not a great mulch.• Compost tea
Green Manures and Cover Crops• Add organic matter to the soil.• Useful when beds are not being used to grow crops.• Different for different seasons.• For winter, rye, wheat, green peas and crimson clover are possible choices.• Legumes may provide a net gain in nitrogen.• Turn under while still young and tender, before seeds form.