Ultimate Compost Guide – Sure Fire Ways to Improve Plant Growth

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How would you like but vibrant flowers, plump and sweet vegetables, fresh green leaves, robust and nutrient-filled roots and stems.and/or healthy seeds yielding hearty new sprouts. These are some of the descriptions of perfect plant growth, what even people who do not enjoy planting would appreciate.

Who wouldn’t want the kind of plants that would yield some impeccable culinary dishes in a form of sage salads or garnishing? Who would complain if they received Instagram-worthy decorations from floral bouquets? Who would refuse business with a farmer who tends to the types of plants that bear sumptuous fruits and flowers which turn ultimately into lots of profit? No one.​

Coming up with the perfect plant, however, can be time-consuming and complicated, but it is not impossible. The secret remedy is literally a rich soil. Yes, you read that right. And one of the primary ways of attaining that is to utilize a productive compost.​ You then can build an ecosystem of your own to yield but the most bountiful produce. With the help of a rich compost, you will invite creatures that not only discharge natural substances but also help protect your greenhouse, garden or farm from harmful bacteria and pests.

Luckily, as to the best compost, there are several options you can choose from. You can buy or preferably make your own. As to the latter, here we can guide you every step of the way. You then can save your hard-earned money and help the environment at the same time. Go natural and create your compost from organic resources you already have! This blog will help you with following….to know, recognize, identify and understand the following:

  • What composting is
  • Different rationales for composting
  • Perfect time, way and season to compost
  • Different composting methods, tips and tricks
  • Crops you can use for growing a compost pile
  • Additional kinds of compost
  • Answers to frequently asked questions about composting​

What Is Composting?

I can understand the possibility of linking composts to fertilizers. Most of us will have the same issue pop into our head when we hear the word. Then again, we can sometimes relate composting most generally to things that rot.

Do you ever wonder why we have to segregate biodegradable from non-biodegradable products? Aren’t you curious about the uses of keeping left-over foods from plastics or bottles or tin cans? Well, one of the aftermaths of this segrative action would be producing effective composts!​

Definition of Basic Terms

Composting is a practice that helps mother earth upcycle nutrients of life. We put compost into the loam and in return, the nutrients of putrefying materials return back to the soil. Eventually, those nutrients will travel to the roots of nearby planted foliage. Soon after, the plants will receive most, if not all, the nutrients and benefits in their physical appearance: e.g. lovely flowers and luscious fruits and vegetables.

 – Compost, on the other hand, is the ongoing product of composting or of organic substances decaying in a natural way to produce rich soil. This will be a combination of different materials that are subject to wilt and decompose in a natural way. The final product is then called as the finished compost.

- Green and Brown Compost  are two basic kinds . Green often has green plant remains (though avoiding those previously sprayed with pesticides), along with egg shells and herbivore dungs. Brown compost may include hairs, nut shells, paper products in all forms (tissues, cartons, and magazines included), cork, and leather.

Humus is a decomposed matter within your compost.​

- Backyard composting is the best choice for you if there is enough open space in your garden, and if you have a regular supply of food scraps.

- Vermicomposting is suitable, on the other hand, if your garden space is limited. This can be done by people who live in apartments or even dormitories. The compost material for this type would also be left-over foods.

- Grass-cycling is still another type. You might have noticed that it is a combination of two words: grass and cycling (yes, like recycling). From there, it gives you a clue that the major compost material needed would be none other than… grass! This is very easy to accomplish as the only thing that you need to do is to leave your grass clippings after you mow your yard.

Ways to Compost

With all the abundant resources of our compost material, knowing how to properly perform the process is also significant because your compost can fail even if you have the correct ingredients.​

Cold and Hot Composting

If your concern for time and effort is the major hindrance for you to start composting, this is going to be perfect for you! I can sum this up in three steps: prepare, combine and wait. Yes, that is all you need and you can now help save mother earth (in your own little way, in your little space). This type of composting is advisable you if you are not in a hurry to come up with your end product as it can take as much as two years. The fun side is that you do not have to do anything at all! Both cold and hot composting require you to follow certain intervals of aeration and moisture, plus specific ratios and strategic layering.

Trench and Vermicomposting

You can also do trench and vermicomposting, with the former using trenches and the latter worms. Trench composting can be done by burying food scraps at least half a foot deep into soil. The decomposition time frame, however, is indefinite from 1-12 months. This is an obvious way to avoid the exposure to bad smells. ​

10 Wonderful Reasons to Start Composting

The most popular reason for composting is the desire for free fertilizers. The use of composts can also lead to the most health-producing plants.

A more comprehensive list of reasons for composting is the following:

#1. You can aid in improving humanity’s air supply

If people cannot wait for their garbage collectors, they resort to burning their wastes. Composting can be done alternatively. You halt combination of smoke, poisonous ash, and burned chemicals, which reduces as one sets fire on their trash, which leads to allergic reaction, asthma attacks, and increased air toxicity.

A greenhouse gas released from landfill materials called Methane causes climate change. This, together with the massive amount of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) are the perfect ingredients for illness.

#2. You can assist in preventing soil erosion

In today’s world, it is not surprising to hear accidents caused by the wearing away of lands. Landfills in nearby water sources such as rivers, streams and lakes get weak. Since the terrestrial is technically unhealthy, it can easily let go of its bind. By composting, you decrease the chances of soil running off into bodies of water.

Regrettably, when we talk about erosion, it is not only harmful to the land as the pesticides and chemical fertilizers used can go to the water and poison the creatures living there.

#3. You can curtail landfill waste

“1/4 landfill waste could have been used as a compost” – Environmental Protection Agency.

Statistics would provide evidence as to how much waste we produced. And it is indeed alarming. By composting all your food scraps, you immediately help decrease the numbers. You might have heard or seen warnings about rat infestation when you are composting foods that are not raw. Another issue would be the smell composts can cause.

Useful Pro Tips to address these two concerns would be

  1. To do trench composting instead of hot or cold! Dig up instead of using trash bins.
  2. To add more dry materials like paper on your compost.​

Please see following sections for further discussion about tips and tricks and for more frequently asked questions.

Since you’ve discovered that you can compost everything that has life, having free resources would never be a problem.

Let’s put it simple, why would we throw something that could really be valuable? Instead of adding up problems to the world, why don’t we contribute towards the solution? Composting lessens wastes and improves earth holistically.

#4. You can dissuade pests from harming your plants

Composts are a natural pesticide. Two big words in one product: natural and pesticide. The fact that it can shoo unwanted visitors from eating up your plants is already superb. But, when you add another element which is being natural that would already be perfect!

And oh, did I mention that you can have this safe insect repellent for free? Since you will be making it on your own, you do not even need to shell out money.​

#5. You can help mother earth create new, healthy, naturalized soil

If soils can protest, they can shout to the world how depleted their nutrients are. The end result of compost is a product that is nutrient-abundant and comprehensively rich with beneficial elements. Using compost with your garden prevents unhealthy balances of pH to occur (either by being very acidic or alkaline). Through the help of composting, you encourage your garden to produce more edible plants.

Aside from micronutrient deficiency, a huge percentage of our land is thirsty. Research shows that adding 5% organic material quadruples the water absorption capability of the soil.

#6. You can promote biodiversity

When we were in grade school, our teacher explained to us the importance of ecosystem. Imagine having an effectual biota in your own backyard! Their presence can help boost whatever benefits composting already have.

Soils with natural humus can attract bacteria and fungi that connect one plant to another, thereby encouraging exchange and transfer of useful substances like food, water, and other nutrients.

#7. You can scale down use of fossil fuels

There are different forms of compost, one would be home-grown and the other would be industrially manufactured. Choosing any will give humanity benefits but selecting the first type would be the better choice.

Making your own compost becomes helpful as you utilize natural elements such as bacteria and fungi to slowly break down the organic matter.

Technically, when factories create compost, they use oil-dependent machines. They also produce vast quantities of compost in a shorter span of time. The process, unfortunately, is not natural (and could bring about negative effects) as they made it faster by using inorganic heat to oxidize.​

#8. You can support plants grow vigorous roots

Even kids know the importance of roots to plants. They are the ones responsible for sucking up nutrients from the land, they connect with other roots, and they support the structure of the plant as they hold firmly on the ground.

When you use compost, you make the foundation robust by stimulating soil particles to stick together, promoting air pockets to increase its number and enhancing multiplication of channels that can transport nutrients.

#9. You can use it as an alternative landscape fillers

Why do you have to pay extra bucks for land fillers when you can just use an organic compound? Yes, that could mean a few hundred more depending on the size of your garden. A definite two birds hit with one stone; you do not only beautify your garden’s appearance, you also create a healthy environment for everyone.

#10. You can bond with your family!

Teaching your children how to compost makes them aware and in charge of their environment at a young age. Explain these benefits in an entertaining way. Make this a fun learning activity and you are also cultivating accountable future generations without even noticing it!

When to Compost?

There is a very special trick we should know and apply when we decide to start composting. That is, to take into consideration the timetable. For countries like us which experience a cycle of four seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall), proper timing should be noted down so as not to waste our materials and most of all our efforts. This section will help you understand the difference between these four seasons, their pros and cons during composting and most of all, I will run down the strategies you can make use of to maximize your plan.

Spring is the perfect time for people living in localities with winter. On the other hand, your composting will maximize its decomposition rate during summer. The heat of the seasonal sun will definitely be helpful as it speeds up the natural decaying method. This process will also be boosted if we regularly mix the contents of your compost. Summer is also the perfect time to produce different batches of high-quality compost.

Fall Composting

Collect all you the materials you can during fall. Include leaves, flowers, soil used for tomato planting, the clippings of grass when you mowed your lawn, stems, and other garden scraps. Do not forget that this is the time wherein layering the materials are important. You must layer compost pile with leaves alternately. Do not forget to set aside extra leaves. As winter days follow, one after the other, layer the extra leaves with your mixed compost regularly. The main purpose layering is to prevent matting; in the same light, the importance of mixing or turning your compost is to provide air pockets.

Preparedness is the key. Make sure that you have a multipurpose tarp to cover your compost bin just in case rainy season comes. You do not want to get your materials become extremely moist or waterlogged.

Spring Composting

Starting your compost during spring requires routine turning. The aim is to increase channels in which air could pass by.

As the temperature becomes hot, the compost will start to cook. If you began composting in the previous seasons, adding more natural materials will become automatic as unsurprisingly, you will have more resources. The freshly introduced warm organic matters will best serve the bacteria in your compost.

Summer Composting

The temperature during this season is the unadulterated component to naturally speed up the process of composting.

For fresh composts, make sure that there is a balance of all the earthly elements needed to create a healthy soil. This includes air, food, water and warm temperature. Just like when you do composting in fall, you have to layer your green and brown materials. As for the watering part, regularly provide moisture while turning. Your task during summer when you already have a compost cooking in your backyard is to ensure that it is properly maintained. Sprinkle new materials (particularly grass) to add variation. Monitor its moisture content to ensure that it will not get dried up.

Winter Composting

Winter composting becomes tricky because of the presence of low temperature. This change in hotness will cause the development of composting to become sluggish. This is, however, no reason to be worried – provided your compose does not entirely freeze to stop the rotting process. When the compost materials are frozen, the cooking stops, microorganisms will go on a hibernate mode until the temperature rises above the freezing point again. So even freezing is not a cause to be apprehensive. And during freezing times, you still add new materials like kitchen scraps and layers of fall leaves. Since it is cold, people would naturally build a fire inside the house, what also produces wood ashes for compost! Feel free to add these ashes in a layering manner.

Choosing a Storage System

Choosing the perfect bin will help you be well-organized. You have to understand that there are materials which can particularly be available only at a certain season. As we all know, leaves will be present in massive amounts during fall and few to zero during winter. Select a container that is suited for the temperature. Are you going to need an insulator? Or would you wish to just go ahead and buy a cold weather composter? If you are planning to start during the summer, you might want to check composters that have high-temperature traps to enhance the composting through heat.

Consider the size of your space and the amount of materials you wish to put inside before buying the product. You may ask your neighbors if you are just a newbie in this process as they will give you important guidelines for these concerns. Few more questions to ask yourself when choosing bins would be: How much time do you have? Shall you buy a composter that has a self-aeration system or would you just let the air in manually following a particular schedule

Prepare Equipment

The first thing in starting to compost is to make sure you have all the needed preparatory equipment, including the following:

  1. Aerator
  2. Gloves
  3. Bin with Screens
  4. Wheelbarrow
  5. Pitchfork and Shovel

The aerator makes air pockets for your compost. You can buy a compost aerator readily available for use. Gloves can help handle the compost materials, A bin  with screens can hold the materials. A wheelbarrow can carry the green and brown compost to the pile and finally a pitchfork and/or shovel can turn over the material so that it becomes further aerated.

Construct a Bin

There are different categories of compost bin to choose from. There are also compost accessories in the market you can purchase. To be more precise, here is a list of choices if you do not want to dig your garden soils.

  • Compost bin (could be made of plastic, wood, or recycled materials)
  • Compost tumbler (allows you to mix your compost with comfort or ease just by turning it). If you want a faster result, use a spinning composter. It has the same method but the bonus aerating mixing fins makes a big difference.
  • Chambered composter (divides your bin into compartments in which the compost can move from one to the other as the composting process develop)​

Otherwise, you can, of course, make your own plastic compost bin and here are the steps:

Step 1: Get a plastic bin that can be tightly sealed. Choose a bin with a height you are comfortable to work with.​
Step 2​: Create 8 to 10 holes at the bottom. This will allow air to enter your compost. You may use a hand drill or hammer and nail.
Step 3: Create another batch of holes in the cover.​
Step 4: The bin is now ready for use. Layer the materials inside, refill, mix and turn regularly. Make sure the cover is secure.​

Construct Bin Out of Trash Can.

  1. Use 40 gallons of garbage can, drill holes evenly on the bottom, sides, and cover.
  2. Place your container on top of 2 blocks of wood so that the air can circulate all over.
  3. Fill in the bin with your compost material.

Construct Bin Out of Shipping Pallets

  1. Select the location. Unlike containers, this type of bin would not be easy to maneuver and it would get lots of effort to transfer.
  2. Wash the pallets with soapy water. Even the sides using sand paper to avoid splinters.
  3. Using two pallets, connect them using L-brackets. Connect the third using another bracket. You may repeat this step depending on the number of available pallets.
  4. Create a swinging door with the fourth pallet using two to three hinges. The door will allow you easily remove your compost once its process completed.
  5. If you would like to put some paint to beautify your bin, do it on the outside part only. This will prevent chemicals to have direct access to your compost materials.
  6. Prepare your planters by covering a landscaping fabric (or burlap) on each side. Allow the cloth to exceed so that it will hang over the sides of the walls of your pallet. Create a pocket by cutting notches in brace points and then sliding the fabric. Once you are contented with the depth and form, staple to stabilize.
  7. Fill the planters with vining plants and fill the bin with compost materials.

Fill with a Balanced Mixture

Green – These are materials that are rich in nitrogen. Their characteristic of being fresh and moist is the key reason why they are called greens. With the abundance of nitrogen, microorganisms will grow, develop and multiply in their healthiest state. Examples of which include:​​

  • Coffee grounds
  • Food scraps
  • Grass clippings
  • Green manure
  • Used tea bags
  • Weeds

Browns –  These are materials that are rich in carbon. Carbon provides energy sources for the main composters such as bacteria, fungi, rotifers, and worms. These are mainly dry matters like:​

  • Branches and twigs
  • Dried leaves
  • Dryer lint
  • Paper products
  • Sawdust
  • Wood ash

Surprising items which could be included in your compost include alcoholic beverages like beer and wine, latex or sheepskin condoms, masking tape, menstrual pads or tampons, nail clippings (must be without polish), non-toxic glue, old leather products, and used loofah. It is highly suggested however to place these items in the middle of your heap.

Ratios are important because properly following it will give you faster results. The magic number would be 30:1. That means, for every 30 parts of the brown mixture, you should add 1 part of greens.​

Layer with  Different Materials
 1) Just like anything else, composts need a very good foundation. This can be done by making 4 inches of hard materials like branches and twigs. The air can easily pass through these items as it creates a non-compact base. Apply liberal amounts of water.

2)  Start layering your greens on top of your browns one after the other until you create a 36-60 inches pack. Do not stuff your layers too firmly. Water each layer regularly.

3)   Optionally, you can top your layers with garden soil.

Turn Your Pile Regularly

This should be done once every week or two. Turning allows:

  1. Oxygen to enter the compost pile. Without turning, our compost will produce bad odor as it becomes anaerobic. Turn to avoid fly and rat infestation.
  2. Ensures that all parts of the heap will be exposed to the killing of all pathogens.
  3. Mixture and chopping matters better, turning what is finely granulated.
  4. The process of composting then finishes faster.

Construct a Wormery

You can also build your own wormery with these steps:

  1. Buy 2 rectangular bins that can be placed on top of each other. One will be called the worm bin, and the other, leachate bin.
  2. Drill aeration spaces on the sides (8 holes) and bottom (18 holes) part of the worm bin. Holes here, however, should be carefully spaced (2-2.5 inches interval). Set aside.
  3. Drill 8 holes on the mid-side. If you’re using Rubbermaid, use the side ridges as your demarcation line. There must be 2-2.5 inches between each hole.
  4. Stack the worm bin over the leachate bin.
  5. Fill the container with worms occupying 75% of the bin, wait and follow vermicomposting procedures carefully.

Adding New Materials

- List of Controversial Materials

  • Cooked food
  • Fats and oils
  • Human waste
  • Meat
  • Pet waste

- List of Things Not to Add  

  • Chemically treated wood, papers, and plants
  • Diseased plants
  • Papers that are glossy and with colored ink

Harvest Your Compost

You can use your finished product by directly applying them to your garden soil.

Lastly, you can create a compost tea out of all your products! It can be applied twice a month to an established plant through a use of garden sprayer or watering can. Soak the solution around the plant root just like how you ordinarily water your plants. You may use this product too as an alternative.

  1. Sift your finished products using a screen (check the materials discussed earlier). Gather all the materials that were able to pass through your filter.
  2. Fill 33% of a 5-gallon bucket with your filtered compost.
  3. Put a mark on your bucket 2 inches on top of your compost. Fill the bucket with unchlorinated water until you reach your demarcation line.
  4. Stir the mixture well with a stick regularly within the next 5 -7 days to aerate.
  5. After a week, strain to get the compost tea.

Ways to Use Compost

You already have your finished product, now what? This section will give you an idea on how you can utilize your hard-earned humus and the crops to grow using it.​

  • Cover your garden’s layer of finished compost to give nourishment to all your plants. As you water them, the humus would be able to go deeper and the plants will absorb its components eventually.
  • If you have garden beds, you may mix your compost with the soil without limitation.
  • Put your compost in a pot and plant seeds using a ratio of 1:3 compost-soil.
  • Sprinkling your compost on top of the soil of established plants. This will only be applicable if you still have a space on your pot. If not, remove 1-2 inch thick soil from the pot and substitute it with your compost.
  • Transfer seedlings to a mixture of 1 part compost and 2 part soils.
  • Some plants like tomato and pumpkin thrive in plain compost. This would be a perfect choice if you do not have a soil nearby but still want to grow plants. You may experiment with different seeds to see which will work.

Crops to Grow on Your Compost Pile

  1. Alfalfa and Red clover. You may use their clippings as an additional organic matter. These perennial legumes grow continuously.
  2. Biennial yellow clover. This plant is super nitrogen rich that as it grows it will continuously emit nitrogen through its root.
  3. Borage and comfrey. The benefit of using these herbs is that they utilize phosphorus and zinc from the compost to grow fast.
  4. Daikon radish and kale. Unlike other vegetables, heavy seeding is needed to be successful. You can recycle the stalks for the compost.
  5. Edamame, Black-eyed peas, Red cowpeas, and other beans. This low maintenance plant would necessitate few steps: plant, harvest, then cut vines.
  6. Winter rye. This plant can serve as the protection for the soil. Its crops are full of nutrients which they add to the compost.

Other Composts

- Bird and Chicken

Certain animals, such as birds are helpful when it comes to composting. Alectura lathami is a very good example of this. Brush turkey, which can be found in Australia creates piles from decomposing vegetation. Apparently, the main purpose of this bird is to produce heat to nurture the eggs on her nest. The bird collects organic materials and places it on its nest so that the warm temperature it naturally emits warms the egg. This compound can eventually turn into a good humus.

The combinations of haystack (and other compost materials) and chicken can lead to many good beneficial outputs. First, the chicken would love to feed on the worms of the compost. Second, the chicken will produce manure that will contribute to the compost. And lastly, chickens will do all the mixing and aeration for you as they hunt for food sources.

Birds can also serve as a composting matter once they die. This allows dead-disposal to be carried out safely and eventually producing valuable materials. Composting is done by mixing deceased avian, their manure and piles of straw.

 – Horse compost

Another great source of animal manure for composting would be horses. As previously discussed, these animals do not grind their food as much as other herbivores. It is a fact that a horse produces about 23 kilos of excreta in a day. Now, if you are fond of horses, or if you have a barn, this could actually give you 8 tons of organic waste per year multiplied by the number of horses you own!

The following are the steps in composting horse manure:

  1. Find a perfect spot for your compost building procedure. It should be in a high area with a leveled ground. You do not want their manure spilling out in lower areas of your field during the rainy season.
  2. Create an 8x8x5-inch compost bin. It would be a wise move to prepare a second or third bin so that you can create batch after batch of compost material.
  3. Provide a barrier between the hot sun and the rain. Use a tarp to accomplish this. In this way, you will be preventing the compost to get dry or too moist and soggy when it rains.
  4. Aerate. Turn your compost accordingly. Sticking a number of PVC pipes that are 5 feet long were vouched to be an effective and easy way to do this.
  5. Water. Moisten it regularly without soaking the compost.
  6. Do steps one to five for three to six months or until the compost crust and crumble like dirt.​

- Grass Clippings Compost

This is one of the easiest ways on how to compost. As the grasses in your lawn grow tall, you can start mowing them… and, just leave the grass clippings on the ground! In due course, the clippings that cover your lawn will naturally decay and will serve as a fertilizer for your soil.

However, if you wish to use your grass clippings as part of your compost material in bins, there is a different process you have to follow. Contrary to the first method I have shared with you, it is advisable for you to classify your grass clipping first. If it is fresh, it belongs to the green matter. On the other hand, of it has dried up already, it counts as a brown matter.

Bear in mind that grass can be easily packed and can get too damp. As an effect, aeration will not happen and microbes will die. With this light, do not carelessly throw your grass cuttings in the pit because negative consequences such as bad odor and slothful development of the composting process.

- Toilet Compost

Warning: This section may not be suitable for everyone. You might have an idea about the primary material which you will utilize when you compost toilets. If your guess was human waste, then you are correct.

Toilet composting has been proven possible and effective in 1960’s. The Bio-drum which was able to quickly compost waste and toilet paper without producing odor, and evaporate the liquid with the manure, introduced us to this concept. The entire toilet is divided into 3 chambers which performs different tasks. The advantages of toilet compost include breaking down of waste using aerobic bacteria, controlling moisture, and stabilizing a warm environment.

Electric Composter

Japan, being well-known for their technology came up with an electric composter. This makes composting relatively easy for anyone. Through its manual, you can easily identify which materials can be added to the compost, even controversial matters like cooked food and fish. It can produce odorless humus in as little as 30 days and you can keep the compost in the bin for 6 months. This is a great composting tool for condominiums and small apartments.The bad side, nevertheless, is that since it is electronic, you will need a power supply to operate it.​

Composting for Kids

If you can recall, I listed family bonding as a good reason why to start composting. Composting can be done by people from all walks of life, even kids. Teach your kids to segregate the fruit and veggie peelings from other household wastes. Ask them to help you combine materials. Explain the process to children in an entertaining way such as using cartoons and educational shows.

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Guest Author: Amelia Robinson

Amelia Robinson is a lover of plants and gardens, as well as an educator on this topic. It’s her goal to make sure that you get the chance to learn what you need to about gardening to succeed with your own home garden at the blog RobinsonLovePlants.com. You’re not going to find just a collection of basic articles about gardening here. Instead, she wants to answer the difficult questions for you. She tweets at @robinsonplants

 

 

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