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May 2009
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Composting tips – what works and what does not

For those people who are able to successfully create a compost pile, there is nothing like it; however for those who are not able to or fail in this attempt, there can be numerous reasons. Following are some tips on failure causes as well as what to do:

Drainage: Good drainage is essential. One solution for this is to have the base of the bin somewhat open so that excess water can flow out. This gap will also allow more microbes and insects to move in and out.

Accelerators: To get a pile started faster, use something called a compost accelerator. This is material that should be high in nitrogen – ideal things are human urine, blood meal, alfalfa meal, compost from a previously completed pile, manure, all these made good accelerators.

Water: Water in a pile is critical. A lot of failures to form compost happens when either the pile is dry or too wet. The definition of the desired level of water in a pile is: “Looks moist like a sponse that has been wrung-out”, but this is not something that is easily measured. You need to have some understanding of the water levels of some of the ingredients of a pile. Some of the materials contain much water than seems evident.
Fresh materials such as grass, fresh leaves, vegetable wastes, manure, hay, kitchen scraps, etc contain far more water than seems evident. Fallen and dry leaves are browns that contain lower amounts of water. If you pile seems too wet, then you need to turn it out, mix it and add some brown materials that have less water. On the other hand, if the pile seems to heat up too much and then stops, then you need to add water.

Nitrogen content: Not enough nitrogen will lead to the pile stopping. You need to add items that have high nitrogen content – fresh green material such as grass, wastes, fresh green leaves, etc have a lot of nitrogen.

Newsprint: People have been warned of newspapers containing toxic or non-biodegradable materials, but that has reduced significantly. Shredded newsprint is useful for the compost.

Shredding: Shredding means that you have smaller particles in the compost, which means more surface area for the microbes to work through, and a faster pile.

Soil: Add some finely dispersed soil in the pile, since the soil comes with a lot of microbes and worms that are very important for the compost pile.

Areration: Aeration in this case means that the pile gets a lot of air (oxygen). The pile needs to be loosened with a fork so that air gets to the different parts of the pile. In addition, you can push bars down to the bottom of the pile so that air gets to inside the pile.

Measure the temperature: Keep a soil temperature to measure the temperature of the pile at frequent intervals. When the temperature of the pile falls to below 40 degress Celsius, then turn the pile. The temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius.

Using manure: Manure can form an important part of any compost pile. Use manure from any animal that is not a carnivore. Avoid using manure from commercial farms since the animals are fed a mixture of antibiotics.

Odours: If you compost pile has an unpleasant odor, then it is either too tightly packed, over-watered or has too much nitrogen. You should add some materials high in carbon content such as grass clippings, straw to the pile.

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