When it comes to making great compost, a few simple tips can go a long way towards creating a perfect pile that decomposes quickly, and teems with nutrients.
A compost pile is a huge asset for the home gardener. The finished compost it creates helps build and recharge soil in vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, raised beds and more.
In essence, it is the ultimate, all-natural fertilizer for plants, providing a perfect balance of readily-available nutrients. And best of all, all for free!
Here is a look at the 5 simple keys to success for creating the perfect compost pile in your backyard:
5 Simple Secrets To Creating The Perfect Compost Pile
#1 Using The Right Mix Of Materials
There are two basic types of materials that go in a compost pile – brown material (inactive), and green material (active). And a compost pile works best when it’s made up of the right mixture of both.
Browns are carbon based materials such as leaves, twigs, wood chips, ashes, dry grass and clippings. Greens on the other hand are nitrogen based. These are materials that heat up the pile to decompose the browns.
Greens include chicken, rabbit, horse or cow manure, fresh vegetable scraps, green lawn clippings and even coffee grounds.
How To Create The Right Mix For The Perfect Compost Pile
So what is the right mix of browns and greens? As a good rule of thumb, a compost pile breaks down best when there is a ratio close to 2 parts of brown material (carbon), to 1 part green (nitrogen).
Do you have to be exact? No. But if you stay close to the ratio, the pile heats up and breaks down faster.
As an example, if you put two buckets of leaves in your pile, you need to add a bucket of manure, coffee grounds or fresh green lawn clippings to keep the pile in balance. (See: 5 Things To Never Put In A Compost Pile)
Creating the right-sized pile with those ingredients is also important. If a pile is too small, it will not generate enough internal heat for decomposition.
A pile at or around 3′ high x 3′ wide works best. It is large enough to create heat. And yet, still small enough to manage for the gardener when turning.
#2 Shred Your Ingredients
Want a perfect compost pile that makes great compost as fast as possible? Then shred your ingredients before adding to the pile! Chopping and shredding materials before adding to a pile gives them a jump start on decomposition.
All of those torn, rough edges allow for more surface areas to be exposed in the pile. Not to mention, the smaller the material, the less it needs to break down.
Use a lawnmower to quickly shred leaves, grass or straw. In addition, cut kitchen scraps with a few extra chops of the knife before adding. But whatever you do, keep those ingredients as small as possible.
#3 Turn That Compost For The Perfect Pile!
Like humans, a compost pile needs oxygen to breathe, live and work. And the best way to give a pile oxygen is to turn it frequently.
Turning a pile every few days will drastically reduce the time it takes to create finished compost. As a pile breaks down inside, it uses oxygen to fuel the decomposition. And as the oxygen becomes depleted, the process slows.
But turning the pile frequently reintroduces oxygen into the center of the pile where it is needed most.
Use a pitchfork or shovel to lift and turn ingredients at least once a week. Every few days is even better. Try to place the outer ingredients in the center of the pile as you flip to create the perfect level of oxygen in the compost pile.
#4 Keep Your Pile Moist
In addition to oxygen, a compost pile needs water to thrive as well. And when there is a lack of moisture within the pile, decomposition will once again slow to a halt.
As you turn the pile, add a few gallons of water if it appears dry in the center. During extremely hot periods, a tarp can be used to help retain moisture to the pile.
So how much moisture is enough? A perfect compost pile should have the consistency of a well-wrung sponge. Damp, but not dripping.
Unfortunately, too much moisture can be detrimental to your pile too. A saturated, water-logged pile will slow decomposition even more than a dry pile. Keep piles covered with a tarp during periods of excessive rain to shed excess water.
#5 Activate Your Compost Pile
Finally, when starting a new pile, always use an activator to jump start the decomposition process.
An activator is nothing more than a supply of organisms and bacteria that help to start breaking a pile down faster. And the best form of an activator is compost from your old pile!
Finished compost is teeming with all types of bacteria and organisms. And a few buckets of old compost placed into a new pile will quickly re-introduce these organisms to start breaking down the fresh material.
If you are starting a pile from scratch and don’t have access to old compost, use a good quality compost starter as a substitute. (Product Link : Jobes Compost Starter)
Here’s to creating the perfect compost pile this year, and being rewarded with healthier soil and plants!
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