Composting is key to a healthy, long-lasting vegetable garden. For the aspiring urban gardener, organic farmer, sustainable development consultant and agroecologist (someone who treats agricultural areas as ecosystems and considers what impact agricultural practices have on the environment) Scott Murray has some tips for better composting.
The Big Picture
“Composting is taking a natural process and bringing it to a more compact form,” says Murray. Think of the forest floor: As leaves fall from trees, they generally land on the ground, moisture is added from rain and the leaves start to decompose and build the soil. If you’ve ever been to a spot where the leaves are really thick and start digging through the layers, there’ll be leaves that look almost like they just fell and then leaves that are starting to turn black and decompose. Down at the bottom, the leaves will be almost unrecognizable, and the soil will be there – in a rich and healthy environment.
The concept of composting involves saving all the organic materials created on our property. It doesn’t have to just be the kitchen, it can also be weeds that you pull from your garden, trimmings from trees and shrubs, etc. All these materials can be brought together and piled up.
There are many options when it comes to your compost pile. “There are some that are tanks that are in a frame that you can turn with a crank, and different types of composters that are pre-made for you,” Murray says. “The very simplest is just to take a simple wire ring, a piece of chicken wire or other wire, make it about 3 to 4 feet across, and just layer in all the organic material that comes through your yard and cover it. We want a mixture of materials.” It’s important to keep it moist because the process is a biological function. If the pile dries out, the biological function slows down to almost a stop. At the right moisture level, the pile becomes a vibrant community of hundreds of microorganisms working away to break down and stabilize those nutrients.
Maintaining Your Compost
Aim to take something out to your compost pile maybe three times a week. If you have a container where you’ve saved dried leaves and you’re adding fresh things from the kitchen, layer the fresh materials and then add a few handfuls of dried leaves over them. Top it off with a squirt of water so that the pile stays moist. It is also important that the pile should be able to drain, because you do not want the pile to be totally wet. “That’s the simplest way to do the job at home, is just let it pile up,” Murray says. “It might get 3 or 4 feet high, and take the wire ring off and move to the next one. You’ve moistened it, so over a period of time, the outside shell will not have decomposed because you didn’t turn it, so carve the outside shell off and put it in the new compost pile.”