Primary Earth-friendly Gardening Tenents:

*Tolerate minimal damage to plants and lawn from pests. *Build and maintain healthy soil by using compost and natural soil amendments. *Use chemicals as a last resort. *Use native plants when possible. They are adapted to the climate, soil and area pests. *Attract Beneficial Insects to increase pollination and decrease harmful pests. *Conserve water by using responsible watering methods.

Friday, July 4, 2008

compost and soil building

Just think of it as recycling. Composting is the simple process of breaking down organic material to form humus, the world's best fertilizer. Composting keeps waste out of landfills, and it fertilizes without synthetic chemicals.


Home composting is an easy way to recycle garden and kitchen scraps and build up your soil with organic matter. These scraps and trimmings contain valuable nutrients.


ITEMS YOU CAN COMPOST AT HOME

Woody, dry materials are high in carbon. The older and more mature the organic material the higher in carbon content. Green materials are high in nitrogen. The greener the material the higher the nitrogen, which speeds the composting process.


Browns (Carbon)
pine needles
dead leaves
sticks
shredded newspaper
cardboard
junk mail
egg cartons

Greens
coffee grounds and filters
tea bags
yard clippings
grass clippings
vegetable and fruit scraps

THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO COMPOST

Whether you use bins, tumblers, multiple piles, trenching or sheet (lasagna) methods composting recycles your debris and creates nutrient rich garden soil amendment.


Cold composting:
heap up dry grass clippings, leaves and other yard debris and let it decompose

Hot composting:
combine equal volume brown and green material in a bin, keep it moist (like a damp sponge) and turn it for aeration - this process creates heat and accelerates the decomposition process. You can turn you bin as often as every few days or as little as once a month. The more you turn it the faster it will "cook." In about 6 months you will have finished compost.


Site:
Choose a site for your compost pile that is protected from drying winds and hot, drying sunlight. The pile must remain moist, however, select a location protected from heavy rainfall to keep it from becoming soggy.


Aeration and Tools:
Compost breaks down through the activity of the many micro organisms in you compost pile. These compost helpers need both air and moisture to do their work. Use a small pitchfork, cultivator or compost turner tool to turn your pile.


Temperature:
An efficient compost pile creates heat to speed the breakdown of organic matter. A well built and tended pile will create a lot of heat - up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.


Size:
To achieve the right heat a compost pile should be about one cubic yard (3 ft X 3 ft). If it is smaller it doesn't contain enough material to support all the microorganisms needed to break down the debris. If it is too big vital oxygen can't reach all of the parts of the pile.



Bins and systems:
I use two different bins - the green "Seattle Composter" and the black "Earth Machine." Different bins and systems have different features so make sure to consider these features when selecting a system.

For my small 5,000 sq ft lot I prefer the Earth Machine with locking lid.



Worm Bins:

Another composting option that you often hear about is worm bins. I currently have 4 bins, two of which are in the basement - so, no, they don't smell! For a family that produces a lot of kitchen scraps, such as vegetarians or just salad and fruit lovers this is a great option.

The Eisenida fetida worm can be found for order online, from a friend with horses, cows or other farm animals with manure piles - or any friend currently operating a bin next time they "harvest" the vermicompost. It is important that you have the correct worms for the bin to operate.
Here are worms in action in one of my bins.
Here is a pound of worms when first acquired.



Worm Bin Construction:

This bin is homemade using two Sterilite totes, which I prefer over Rubbermaid. The plastic is more rigid and the lid does not seal as airtight when it snaps closed, allowing air into the bin. The bottom bin is for leachate collection. I have placed 4 blocks, one in each corner of the bottom bin, allowing the top tote to set up without nesting fulling into the lower tote. The top tote has several drainage holes drilled in the bottom and the lid has two vents (from Home Depot) glued into holes cut in the top.

Bedding a Worm Bin:

Once constructed the bin was filled with shredded newspaper (avoid color and glossy ads) and dried leaves, mixed and moistened until damp. The worms were then introduced to the bin and left for 1 week before the first "feeding." When feeding your bin it is recommended to "pocket" the food scraps by digging a small hole.

I often "rebed" the bin with shredded newspaper. When doing so I pull the "working" material to one side and put the shredded paper on the bottom of the bin. You can use junk mail also, be careful not to include plastic "windows" or shredded credit cards pieces.

Harvesting and Rebedding a Worm Bin:

When the bin appears "done" you can remove some of the vermicompost by sorting the compost and returning the worms and any large material back to a freshly bedded bin. Any easy method id to dump the material onto a tarp and expose the top to light, which causes the worms to dive into the dark bottom of the pile, scoop the usable vermicompost into your bucket and then return the worms and remaining material to your bin.