How to Get the Most Out of Your Compost Bin

How to Get the Most Out of Your Compost Bin

So you’ve started to compost. Good for you! Good for your garden, too. And you know you did it right because you followed the instructions of an expert. But even the best-designed and most carefully constructed compost pile could benefit from a few choice tips. If you have already used them, turn the virtual page. If not, read on to transform your compost pile from ‘ah’ to ‘awesome’!

Recycled Plastic Spin Bin Composter

Recycled Plastic Spin Bin Composter

First, don’t forget the essential decomposition ingredients for any compost pile: nitrogen, oxygen and water. This is proving to be an exceptionally hot summer across the U.S., and your compost pile likely needs sprinkling to jump start the disintegration process. But not too much water or that same process will “stall out” and take twice as long. Compost (if you are turning and sprinkling regularly) should take about 3.5 months.

Nitrogen is another key ingredient. For the most effective treatment, choose organic fish emulsion fertilizer, mixed as directed and sprayed from a canister. Yes, it does smell like fish and may attract all the cats in the neighborhood for a day or two, but – aside from blood meal or bat guano – it’s the highest in available nitrogen of any fertilizer on the market. For that reason, it has to be mixed carefully to prevent destroying the very important soil microbes you are attempting to cultivate in your compost bin.

Another superb addition to your compost pile, to help speed up decomposition, are worms. Some gardeners go the extra mile and build a worm bin alongside the compost bin, but you can let your compost bin do double duty, since worms eat their weight in natural vegetation and produce their weight in worm castings every day. For the best red wigglers (the champs of the compost pile), visit our web page.

Don’t forget to layer your compost bin; branches and woody material on the bottom so the bin can “breathe”. Add layers of different materials above that. The depth of your bin should be about three feet (or one meter) and just as wide or long. This is the optimum depth for turning and for essential ingredients like water and fish emulsion to reach the center.

Some composters recommend putting wood ash from the fireplace or wood stove into their bins. Ash contains calcium, magnesium, lime and potassium, this last being one of the three essential ingredients of fertilizer. The lime can “sweeten” the compost, making it suitable for plants which prefer a more pH neutral soil. It can also neutralize the odor of the compost bin, but you must use it sparingly. Too much will destroy those soil microbes. And never use coal ash.

What to do with all those grocery store paper bags? Shred them and add to your compost bin. Brown paper is a carbon-rich material, ideal for decomposition. As are newsprint, wood chips and sawdust. And don’t forget the eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags, all of which add valuable amounts of calcium, nitrogen and micronutrients to compost. But do not use colored paper, color-printed newspaper or heavily printed brown bags.

Compost generates heat as the ingredients break down. Speed up that breakdown process by putting your compost bin in a sunny spot. Well built and covered with decorative lattice, your bin doesn’t have to be an eyesore, and giving it extra sunlight means the microbes don’t have to work as hard.

Landscape nurseries and greenhouses often carry amendments that you can use on your compost to speed up the disintegration. Called compost activators or microbial inoculants, these contain the actual microbes found in a healthy, active compost bin, so it isn’t really cheating if you use them, just smart.

Finally, use your compost! Heap it around the bases of tomato plants, or sprinkle it to keep the roots of daylilies cool and your perennial beds weed-free. It’s an unwritten rule: craftsmen buy Milwaukee tools, pro golfers use Cobra drivers, and serious gardeners compost!

 

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