Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Down-to-Earth Composting - Part 1

Composting does not need to be complicated. Some gardening books, in their enthusiasm and perfectionism, seem to sometimes get into too much detail and unnecessary complications, which might cause some to give up before they've even tried. That's not to say there isn't room to improve and perfect my method (I'm open to suggestions!).

This post is sparked due to a friend's questions about composing, assuming it to be some complicated and expensive science. My method, for better or worse, is more or less free and simply involves mixing a ratio of about 45% kitchen (green) waste, 45% leaves (brown) waste, and 10% soil (by mass, not volume). Then add water (or snow) occassionally to keep moist but not soaking wet. Occasionally mix with shovel to aerate. It is usually ready to spread on garden in one year. This can be sped up by adding fertilizer, but I wouldn't bother unless you are using a free "natural fertilizer" (i.e. diluted urine).

The composting container is convenient for reducing the area of yard needed and soil to haul around, but is not necessary. I also compost surplus leaves in mounds (about 50/50 soil and leaves). This takes a lot more soil especially if I am depositing kitchen wastes as I like to cover it each time when dumped to reduce odours and flies. Also, the soil spreads out at about a 3:1 slope, creating compost sprawl. So I jumped on the opportunity to buy a City of Calgary composter last year for $25 (available at the ECOSTORE). I figure this can be justified due to the money I'll be saving us taxpayers over the long term for not having to haul and landfill my kitchen and yard "waste" for the rest of my life. Which is not a waste at all, of course, but a valuable resource and the easiest way to improve your garden and minimize garden maintenance. The composting work now will pay off with less work later on!

The benefits of composting are many! Some benefits include:
  • Free fertilizer and soil enhancer
  • Dramatically improves heavy clay soil over time (give it a few years)
  • Reduces soil pH - humic acid helps break down clay and reduce alkilinity which is good for veggies)*
  • Reduced burden on City waste disposal infrastructure
  • Office dweller can get his hands dirty and be outside for a change
  • Bigger and healthier vegetables
  • Less watering - compost helps optimize (retain and drain) soil moisture
  • Less weeding - veggies outcompete due to healthy growth
*NOTE: if you are focused on native prairie landscapes, compost could be a negative addition as most native prairie plants thrive in organic deficient heavy clay soils and can actually grow poorly in highly composted soils, oddly enough. However, they are not always that fussy. Our native prairie flowers, such as Yarrow, Blazing Star and Brown-Eyed Susan do OK in very shady (2 hrs sunlight per day in summer) and non-ideal conditions in our front yard, although I don't add compost there which might help a little).

I'll call this Part 1 as I'm sure I will add more posts on this interesting topic. Please feel free to share tips from your gardening experience and preferences.


Rachel Simpson said...

Thanks for this great Calgary-based intro to composting.

ApaulO ARTik Agrinaut said...

great read! i'd like to follow this blog... can u add that gadget?

Ethan said...

I put all my scraps in the chicken and duck pen. I also bring all the scraps from work, which is a residential facility housing 12 teenage boys. I have a neighbor who brings kitchen scraps in exchange for eggs. Surprisingly, my birds aren't drowning in orange peels and such, as they keep digging throuh their litter, and mixing it up, and I keep adding fresh straw. It is going to make some awesome mulch for my garden this year!