Let's TalkTrash - Making Compost

Let’s Talk Trash - June 2022 - Making Compost

 

Currently, it’s estimated that organic waste represents 40% of material sent to BC landfills. This is not true of Lasqueti’s waste because no organics are permitted on the trash barge. This begs the question: what are locals doing with their organic waste? 

We’d all likely be hoping Lasquetians are making compost but what happens in the privacy of our homesteads is unclear. Just in case you aren’t yet turned onto the wonders of transforming your kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into free fertile soil, read on!

Making your own compost saves money and resources. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that enriches the soil and plants. Anything that grows decomposes eventually; composting simply speeds up the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria, fungi, and other decomposing organisms (such as worms, sowbugs, and nematodes) to do their work. The resulting decomposed matter, which often ends up looking like fertile garden soil, is called compost. Farmers value it so highly they often refer to it as “black gold”.    

Making compost can be simple. Begin with a container to hold the material together. If you don’t produce a lot of kitchen and garden scraps and you don’t want to attract rodents, you might want to invest in a small bin, or a tumbler. Otherwise you can construct an area with pallets, boards or wire fencing. 3’ x 3’ x 3’ is considered the ideal space for containing a pile. Many online sources recommended putting it in a sunny spot to speed up the process. 

A healthy compost is made of four main ingredients:

Green material for nitrogen input. You can get this from grass clippings, food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, fresh leaves, garden weeds, hair, and fur.

Brown material for carbon input. Dry leaves and grass, cardboard, newspaper, dead plant clippings, wood chips, nutshells, hay, straw, sawdust, and pine needles all work. The smaller you chop/shred your material the faster it will decompose. (I keep a machete by the bins to chop up woody bits).

Water. A compost pile needs to be moist but not wet. If it’s too wet the waste won’t decompose. Too little water kills the beneficial bacteria. If you squeeze a handful of compost it should feel like a wrung out sponge.

Air. This can be provided by turning the compost regularly or by putting vertical sticks into the pile. The micro-organisms need air to do their work!

The layering ratio is 1 part green to 3 parts brown. Bulky carbon helps allow the oxygen in. Start on the bare earth with a layer of twigs or branches to allow for aeration at the bottom of the piles. Adding a lot to the pile at once encourages it to heat up. Layer the green and brown, watering in between to keep the pile moist in the summer months. I like to add finished compost (full of micro-organisms) to the layers. The more material you build up at once, the more the heap heats up. Stick your hand in the middle of your pile, if it’s hot it’s working! Some compost nerds use a compost thermometer. A properly working pile heats up to 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures pathogens and weed seeds are destroyed. 

Don’t put meat scraps, bones or oils in the compost or you’ll attract pests. Some die-hards abandon this rule and compost it all, while never overloading any putrescibles at any one time.  These can be burned in your wood stove or buried in the ground. I also know people who bury their kitchen scraps as they make them, usually in a garden bed where they are intending to plant heavy feeders like corn or squash. The earth does the job of composting in this case. This needs to be done with caution as it can attract furry pests of all sizes.

Keep your eye on the pile. If it’s wet, it needs more carbon.  If it’s dry, add water. If it smells, it may have gone anaerobic and need more aerating or fluffing up with a garden fork. When your compost is finished, it should look, feel and smell like rich dark soil. Nothing you put in there should be recognizable other than sticks and avocado pits.

Compost improves the structure, texture and aeration of garden soil. It helps retain water, enriches soil fertility, and stimulates healthy root development. It’s impossible to over apply it. Plants use what they need when they need it. It’s cheap, relatively easy and beneficial to the earth. Let’s all make compost!

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