From the Garden: Let's Make a Compost Pile!

By Erin Breglia

Even novice gar­den­ers quick­ly move beyond the basics of plant­i­ng, water­ing, fer­til­iz­ing and har­vest­ing, and begin to focus on ways to keep a gar­den healthy and pro­duc­tive. A com­mon way to do this is by adding com­post to the gar­den, which adds valu­able nutri­ents to the soil. 

Here are a few tips to help get you start­ed on cre­at­ing your own com­post pile for gar­den­ing use.

Loca­tion is impor­tant. Cre­at­ing your pile in an open area with par­tial sun/​shade is ideal.

Size. Your com­post pile should be at least 3’ tall and 3’ wide. When cre­at­ed cor­rect­ly, a com­post pile is lit­er­al­ly heat­ing up to break down plant mate­ri­als, killing weed seeds, and increas­ing micro­bial activ­i­ty. A com­post pile small­er than the rec­om­mend­ed dimen­sions may not heat up efficiently.

Com­postable mate­ri­als. Most organ­ic mate­ri­als can be clas­si­fied as nitrogen/​greens” and carbon/​browns”. Greens” are items such as kitchen waste (veg­etable peels, seeds, and scraps), fresh weeds, and grass clip­pings. Browns” are items such as old leaves, shred­ded paper, and bulki­er dry plant mate­r­i­al, such as end of the sea­son veg­etable plants and the peren­ni­al gar­den cut back.” For opti­mal com­post­ing, lay­er or alter­nate the greens” and browns” in a lasagna style, with each lay­er being approx­i­mate­ly 46” thick. You can add a third lay­er of ani­mal manure, which will accel­er­ate the heat­ing of the pile. Manure will also pro­vide a nitro­gen source for ben­e­fi­cial microbes. 

Water. Your com­post pile should remain moist, but not wet or soggy. 

Turn­ing the pile. An open-air com­post pile should be turned about once a week; a com­post tum­bler should be turned every 3 – 4 days. It is impor­tant not to turn the pile dai­ly, as this can pre­vent the pile from heat­ing up com­plete­ly and may dis­rupt the for­ma­tion of microbes and fun­gi that break down the greens and browns. If you do not turn the pile enough, it will still break down, but it will take longer to turn into compost.

Is it done yet? You will know your com­post is ready when it has decom­posed into small brown-col­ored soil par­ti­cles and has cooled. This can take any­where from 2 months to 2 years, depend­ing on the size of the pile, mate­ri­als in it, and how often it is turned. 

An infor­ma­tive source of infor­ma­tion on home com­post­ing is the NYS Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Conservation’s web­site, www​.dec​.ny​.gov

Spring 2021

Volume 39 , Number 1

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