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Making a Compost Pile

Although making compost can be as easy as putting a couple of layers of garden debris in a pile, the process can be made more efficient with just a little work on the part of the gardener. The first thing to do is find a well-screened corner of the yard or garden.

Photo of Table Scraps

The two most important ingredients for the compost pile are fresh green garden waste, and dried leaves (or some other "brown" matter). Two brown to one green is the best ratio. The green matter will be high in nitrogen, while the brown matter will contribute mainly carbon. Remember that all life as we know it is carbon based. This carbon will contribute greatly to making rich black compost. These two ingredients thrown together in a pile will begin the process once a few microbes are introduced. In an ad hoc pile, they will normally make their own way into the pile from the surrounding area.

Table scraps can also be added to the compost pile. However, these should be buried under other ingredients to avoid attracting unwanted pests. If using scraps from the table, do not include foods such as dairy, meats, animal wastes, oils, or diseased plants. (The diseased plants can very likely spread their problem to other plants - this is especially true with roses and grapes.) Also avoid composting plants that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.

The ideal pile is three cubic feet or about 1 cubic meter. This allows the compost to work at maximum efficiency and heat. However, the gardener just embarking upon a compost pile seldom has this amount. The key is simply to begin, adding the ingredients available and mixing them into a pile. The necessary microbes and worms will often infiltrate the pile from the ground on their own. However, if some freshly decayed material is available adding this to a new pile will help "jump start" the process.

The compost pile should be kept as damp as a rung out dishrag. The need for moisture can be assessed at the turning of the pile. For the fastest results, turn the pile once per week. This allows adequate oxygen into the compost and keeps the compost from packing down. If there are no time constraints, a weekly turning is by no means necessary. Compost will still decompose, it will simply take longer for the process to occur. [The author turns his pile once per year in the spring and is rewarded with sufficient compost for the gardening chores of the season.]

With a well-turned pile, compost should be ready in about seven or eight weeks. The finished product will be earthy smelling, a dark, rich brown or black. None of the original component parts will be recognizable.

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