My apologies, guys, for this very delayed post on the different composting methods and techniques that I promised in my Composting Basics post. One of the hazards of the writing life and gardening is carpal tunnel syndrome…and I’ve just had a surgery to rid me of that problem.
So, delivering on my promise, I’ll be discussing six different methods of composting this time. All will involve either aerobic or anaerobic composting.
In aerobic composting, we’ll need microorganisms that thrive on air and oxygen to break down organic material. Anaerobic composting, the opposite of the aerobic process, makes do with microorganisms that don’t need oxygen to survive.
Before I dish out these six composting techniques, keep in mind that the ideal ratio of organic materials for a useful, mature compost is 8 parts “brown” matter, 3 parts “green” materials, and 1 part soil. Of course, don’t leave out water, warmth and depending on the type of organism, air and oxygen.
Plain Vanilla Composting
I call it plain vanilla composting because this is the straightforward composting method that we all know. It involves designating a 25 sq. ft. (or smaller) area in your garden for a compost pit. It shouldn’t get any larger than that because then it’ll be difficult aerating the pile.
Layer organic material according to this order: the browns at the bottom, followed by greens, then topped by soil. If you want to add calcium, phosphate and potash to your compost, you can sprinkle limestone, granite dust and greensand over the soil. And, if you’re in a bit of a hurry, you can also add AgVerra’s professional-grade Compost Activator to speed up composting time.
Continue building these layers until you have a 5-foot-high pile. Make sure that you moisten the heap every couple of layers or so.
During the first week, turn the pile every 2-3 days with a fork, then taper off after the third week to once a month. You should be able to use your homemade compost in 3-4 months (lesser, if you use Compost Activator).
I call this the “No Turn” composting method because you don’t need to turn the organic material, at all. It may be the easiest though, but it also takes the longest to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Follow the same layering in Plain Vanilla Composting but this time, just keep on adding materials on a bin and when it’s full, fill up the next and then the next. The 30:1 browns-to-greens ratio is a very important component of this method as you could end up with a rotted, smelly pile that’ll be useless in your garden.
By the way, this composting method takes about 3 years for compost to mature because you’re not doing anything to help the decomposition along.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to wait 3 years (I, for one, don’t have that much patience), you can try this quick composting method. Though it brings the fastest results, it’s also the most labor intensive.
Use the same ratios of layering materials but before building your pile, shred all organic materials into small pieces. Make sure that you also turn the compost heap as regularly as twice a week so that it’s always hot, speeding up the breakdown of materials. The secret in this composting method is to keep the heap from cooling down, hence the need to aerate it often.
A no-sweat composting method, anaerobic organisms are necessary to break down organic material. You won’t need to turn the pile but it won’t take 3 years to get compost ready.
What you do is place your layers of browns, greens and soil in heavy-duty black garbage bags, tied very tight, or well-sealed compost bins and let them sit in a cool place in your garden. Leave alone for 6 months, which is the time it takes for compost to mature.
As the name suggests, this composting method involves digging a trench about 3 ft deep and burying kitchen scraps and vegetable waste in it.
Cover each new layer with soil. When the trench is full, wait a couple of months before sowing or planting as you would in a regular garden bed.
You can start trench composting around fall to take advantage of the compost in the spring planting season.
Otherwise known as vermicomposting, this composting method yields the most fertile soil improver ever.
You can’t use your garden variety earthworm though. For worm composting, you’ll need what you call red wiggler earthworms or redworms. They’re also called tiger worms. They also often hide in mature compost heaps or manure piles but you can also order them from the Internet.
The earthworms feed on vegetable wastes and other kitchen scraps like fruit peels, shredded paper, cooked leftovers and coffee grounds then they transform this waste material into highly fertile manure.
Keep in mind though that worms don’t have big appetites so feed them only with a little food (about 4 quarts) at a time. If you give them large quantities of food, you’ll only end up with rotting waste and dead worms.
Use boxes, plastic bins or crates to house your worms. Vegetables and similar kitchen scraps come with a lot of moisture so make sure that your worm bins have adequate drainage. If moisture collects, the worms can drown.
Lastly, keep the worm bin insulated, maintaining a 50-77ºF temperature. These are the ranges where the worms are at their decomposing peak.
There you have it, folks! The lowdown on the different types of composting methods. Next time, we’ll be focusing on the basics of plant nutrients and organic fertilizers. In the meantime, feel free to share with us your favorite composting method (or story).