Basic Composting 101

I don’t compost at all in the winter here as it is too hard to keep it ‘hot’ in our frigid weather but here is some general information on composting in case you live in a more temperate climate. In Santa Fe, I compost in the Fall and then let it cook all winter and use it in the Spring after it becomes compost. Then I make more in the Spring and Summer.

1. I build my compost bins to hold the materials out of pallets. I just use 3 per bin and wire them together. I line the interior with hardware cloth (1/2 inch wire holes) to keep it from falling through the pallet  slots. I built 3 of them for the various stages the compost goes through.Works great. Easy.

2. When building my compost pile I alternate layers of BROWN and GREEN materials (2-4 inches of each layer) and when you add a food scrap layer, make sure you sprinkle it with soil and then top off with a brown layer to prevent smells. I use a RATIO OF ONE PART BROWN TO ONE PART GREEN materials. In other words-equal amounts of both. I usually turn it once or twice but I should turn it more (like every week). I also need to water the pile to help with the breakdown process. The compost pile should be moist like a sponge but not drowning. That is usually not a problem as the climate is sooo dry here in Santa Fe. In fact we have to water more because it is so dry. In other parts of the world where it rains more, you may have to cover it from getting too wet.

3. Here is the GREEN (NITROGEN) MATERIAL I USE in my compost pile-grass, food scraps (uncooked fruit and vegetables like old lettuce, old tomatoes, potato peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells), garden trimmings and FRESH horse manure.  If you can’t get fresh horse or other farm animal manure, then use blood meal or alfalfa meal to get your pile HOT. Just sprinkle it on top of  your green layer.

4. Here is the BROWN (CARBON) MATERIAL I USE dry manure, fall leaves, straw and newspaper strips (dry). I usually start at the bottom of the pile with some leaves and then add the green and kitchen scraps and some dirt and then the brown again. The stuff at the bottom of your pile will start to break down first. That is why you need to turn it over-so it cooks evenly. If you don’t turn it over it will take much longer to to break down and that is ok with some of us.

5. Here is what I DON’T USE in the compost pile- any meat products (attracts animals and may carry pathogens),  no dog or cat poo, no woody or branchy stuff  (takes too long to break down) corn cobs, no veggie garden plants (in case they have some disease)

6. Start by layering your brown and green stuff in one of your bins and pile it high. It will start to cook down in a couple of days and you will notice it will be about 1/2 its original size in about a week-if you have enough nitrogen (manure or blood meal or alfalfa meal) to get it cooking.

7. If you want to, get a compost thermometer which is about 24 inches tall to put in the center of the pile. A hot pile may get from 110 degrees- 160 degrees F which is hot enough to kill most pathogens and it is fun to see how hot your pile is. The hotter the pile, the faster it becomes compost. But this requires more turning to get it to decay faster. This is called HOT COMPOSTING.

8. Lastly you could layer all your stuff and just wait (about a year) for it to decay and become compost on its own. This is called COLD COMPOSTING.

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