Sunday, May 31, 2009


by Ingrid Burrington and Miranda Pfeiffer

1. When turning compost, pitchforks are a preferred tool. Shovels may seem promising but with so many weeds and stringy things, the stabbing/lifting motion is your best bet.
2. Compost don’ts: Sunflower stalks (they take forever, and dry out to the point of resembling tree branches rather than plants), buckets, fiberglass, baby mice.
3. Compost do’s: plant waste, weeds, manure (Miranda: “preferably horseshit”), water, food scraps (depending on your garden—it can attract vermin)
4. Contrary to popular belief, just leaving waste in a big stupid pile does not magically transform it into dirt. If the compost pile does not have a good mix of materials and there is enough air passing through, anaerobic respiration occurs (which means that the materials rot and mold). You’ll know this has happened when the methane smell hits you. A good compost heap should vary the layers as green waste (we used weeds, food scraps, and dried leaves), brown waste (dirt, manure), and water.
5. Because compost is continuously changing it should be turned regularly. As much as you might want to get as much into the compost it shouldn’t be compacted too much otherwise the layers can’t breathe.
6. Your compost should be warm and moist, as warm as a freshly baked cookie and as dense as a cake. You know, a cookie or cake of decomposing waste.
7. Water allows for the layers to mix well, but too much water will just make the compost a soppy mess. Some use the water runoff from compost heaps for watering gardens (they call it “compost tea”, which is cute). The water should be distributed throughout the layers as the pile is turned, because otherwise the water will only sit on the surface.
8. 3’x3’ is a good size for a compost heaps because it offers the best distribution of energy production for the waste. If it’s too small it will overhead (which can lead to that anaerobic respiration) and if it’s too big it won’t distribute evenly.
9. If composting at home, remember: the human energy required to cut up and eat a vegetable is so little compared to the energy required for that vegetable to turn into compost.
10. If the space is available, having a few compost piles going at one time is good because then there’s material at each stage of the composting process available and the piles can be rotated together.

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