Super Charging Your Compost Pile

Last week I laid out some quick and easy ways to compost your garden and kitchen scraps. If you follow only the advice given in that post, you'll be well on your way to recycling the good old fashioned way, while providing your garden with compost that would cost a tidy sum in the store. If you're anything like me, soon you'll find yourself almost gleeful when you discover half rotted broccoli in the back of the fridge: "Compost material!" But most gardeners find they can't make compost as quickly as they'd like - so this post focuses on super charging your composter. If you follow these steps, you should end up with finished compost within two to four weeks.

Know Your Greens and Browns Perhaps the most important way to make compost quickly is to know the difference between browns and greens. In the composting world, browns are high carbon materials and greens are nitrogenous materials. In order to keep the composter hot and decomposing, most experts suggest placing three parts brown to one part green inside it. Add more browns and the pile will decompose much more slowly; add more greens and you'll end up with a slimy, smelly pile that decomposes even slower. Browns: Dry leaves Straw and hay Plant clippings (except grass) Wood ash Shredded papers Sawdust or wood chips Corn cobs and stalks Greens: Fruit and vegetable scraps Dry grass clippings Seaweed and kelp Chicken manure Coffee and tea grounds Turning Frequent turning is also a must for faster finished compost. Turning gives fresh oxygen to the pile, which in turn gives the pile bacteria needed to eat up organic matter. This is why turn handle composters are nice; give them a full five or six rotations daily. If you don't have a turning composter, you'll need to turn the pile with a garden fork. As you do so, break up any clumps and move dry materials toward the center of the pile. Let it Drink To decompose quickly, compost piles should be moist but not soggy. If you can pick up a handful of compost material and squeeze water from it, you need to keep the pile more dry. Try adding some dry brown leaves or hay to the mix, and keep the pile covered with a tarp if it's been raining a lot. If your pile is dry, add a little water from the hose and check the moisture level each day. (Even better than ordinary water is water you've cooked veggies - not meats - in.) Keep it Small The smaller the pieces of material you add to the composter, the faster they will decompose. Chop up kitchen materials before putting them in the composter or kitchen composter. Put leaves through a lawn mower or chipper. Put corn cobs and branches through the chipper, too. Exceptions No matter what you do, your compost pile will likely be too cold to decompose effectively during the winter months (unless you live in an area that's warm all year round). Feel free to keep adding contents to the pile, bearing in mind your brown to green ratio, but don't expect the pile to produced a finished product for spring planting. Activators? There's little scientific evidence that compost activators actually work, but many gardeners swear by them. I, personally, have never had much luck with activators, but recently the owners of a seed store told me alfalfa meal works well. According to these avid gardeners, it contains both protein and nitrogen, which helps break down the composting materials. You can buy alfalfa meal at gardening centers.

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