Composting is the decomposition of plant organic material into compost.
The end product is like humus, the difference is that decomposition occurs spontaneously into humus in nature while composting is controlled by man.
Composting occurs through microbial life (fungi, bacteria) and invertebrates (worms, insects).
Composting is not very difficult. And no, a healthy compost pile does not smell bad.
It may attract many insects and therefore it is best not placed next to your house.
Uses for compost:
Compost is essential in ecological or biological gardening, horticulture and agriculture.
Compost is rich in organic nutrients and can be used to fertilize plants.
Spread a good layer of compost on the soil in the fall and dig it under.
By incorporating compost into the soil, it improves the soil for better ventilation and permeability.
Spread a good layer of compost on the soil in the fall and dig it under.
Weeds can be inhibited by the spreading a layer of compost on top of the soil.
The composting process generates a lot of heat which kills most of the seeds and microbes.
It is not recommended to sow in compost, pure or mixed: it contains substances that may inhibit germination.
When seedlings have a few leaves, they can be repotted in potting soil mixed with compost.
Benefits of composting at home:
Less household waste:
Much of your household waste consists of plant residues. By composting it, you drastically reduce the amount the amount of waste you produce.
Thus, less bin bags full of useful organic material which would pollute during the waste treatment.
Less garden waste:
All your garden waste can be thrown on the compost heap, except material from diseased plants. Although most germs are killed by the heat inside a compost heap, some may survive.
Produce your own fertilizer and soil improvement product:
The compost you obtain is excellent to feed the plants in your garden, balcony or even houseplants. And it improves the soil in your garden. And it is completely free.
Isn’t composting is difficult?
Decomposition is a natural process that takes place automatically.
Nevertheless, you should follow a few guidelines and not throw some things on the compost heap because they do not decompose easily or carry germs.
But once you master it, it is very easy.
What is needed for good compost?
Pile it up:
Throw any vegetable waste on the compost heap. The decomposing process takes place in the nucleus of the heap, less at the top and on the outside.
Keep it moist:
In dry weather you should water the compost pile so that it remains moist.
Cover your compost heap with an air and water permeable cloth or plastic foil. This prevents dehydration and keeps the temperature higher.
Alternate layers with different types of organic waste: kitchen waste, shredded branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw…
Remember this principle: alternate brown and green material.
The green material is composed of soft plant parts and provides nutrition for microbes and invertebrates.
The brown or woody material is harder and keeps the airy structure so that the compost heap gets enough oxygen.
It is important to alternate the layers as much as possible.
Mix the compost monthly with a pitchfork. Bring the inner part to the outside and vice versa.
Every year get all the compost out and mix it completely. Then put it back.
Place your compost heap, vat or container in partial shade.
What do you need to compost at home?
This depends mainly on the size of your garden:
- In a large garden, use 2-3 compost heaps in open container or no container but separated by a palette.
- In a small garden, use a single composter.
- In apartment, use a wormery.
How long before you have usable compost?
In the summer: 3-4 months.
In the winter: 6 months.
How do you see when compost is ready for use?
Ready for use compost is dark brown to black, grainy and smells of earth.
When do you start composting?
You can start composting all year round but midwinter is useless because there is almost no biological activity.
What can go on the compost heap:
Raw vegetable kitchen waste:
It is called green waste but any other colored kitchen waste also goes on the compost heap: tomato peels, potato peels…
Egg shells, whole or fragmented. If they are whole, they form air pockets and you may find some remains later.
Nut shells are brown material. Some nutshells decompose slowly and you may find leftovers later.
Coffee grounds and tea:
Coffee grounds with paper filter and tea bags.
Bones decompose very slowly but you can add a small amount to the compost heap as they contain interesting nutritious elements.
Paper in small quantities. It contains a lot of cellulose and decomposes slower than green material.
Cooked and processed food:
Allowed in small quantities.
Grass clippings but not too much at once. It is best mixed with brown material for ventilation.
All garden waste, except diseased tissues.
Prunings must first be shredded.
Fallen leaves and needles can be used as ground cover in the garden. What remains can be thrown on the compost heap. Let the leaves lay on the soil a few days so decomposition has begun before they end up on the compost heap.
Manure from herbivores:
Manure from herbivores is very good for the compost heap.
Sawdust and wood shavings:
Allowed in small quantities but mix it first with other material because it tends to cake.
What is not allowed on the compost heap?
Timber and non-shredded prunings are not allowed because they decompose very slowly.
Animal waste is organic and decomposes but it stinks and attracts vermin.
Sauce, fat and oil:
These products coat the material and block oxygen. This slows down the composting process.
Earth and sand:
Earth and sand can not decompose and greatly slow the composting process in the compost heap.
Remove all soil from garden waste before throwing it on the compost heap.
Droppings of carnivorous animals:
They stink, attract vermin and may pose a health risk (eg. toxoplasmosis in cats).
Cat litter, disposable diapers, dust from the vacuum cleaner, ash, charcoal, plastics, metal
In a large garden, rotate 2 or 3 compost heaps:
- 1 waiting heap: for your kitchen and garden waste waiting to be mixed with brown material
- 1 starting heap: where you start composting
- 1 active heap: this is already well filled and active
If you have plenty of fresh brown material (prunings, leaves, grass clippings …) mix it with some of the waiting pile and throw it on the starting pile.
Mix a part of the active compost heap with the starting heap: biological activity is busy and the organisms move into the fresh compost.
In a small garden, you have less space but also less garden waste.
Therefore, in a small garden 1 compost heap or vat is enough.
- start with a thick bottom layer of brown material
- avoid the compost getting too wet by mixing or alternating as much as possible green material with brown material
- once the composting process has started, simply top it up. The level drops with decomposition.
- mature compost can be harvested through a hatch at the bottom the bin
- plug the vent stick 1-2 times a week in the compost pile, turn it and pull it up again. Do this in several places in the compost bin. This creates an air column for better air circulation.
In an apartment you can compost with a wormery.
This is a lot more complicated than working with a compost heap in the garden. It really needs some care and attention, otherwise the worms die and the wormery will stink.
Because this is quite different from composting in the garden, I will write a separate article on the topic.
You can not compost yourself:
Check with your municipality if you can bring garden waste for composting. In some municipalities you can even bring kitchen waste.
This is also the place where you can get free compost for your garden, balcony or indoor plants.