Part 2: How to make compost
Employing slow composting is an easy and convenient way to turn yard wastes into a useful soil amendment. It is often the best method for people who do not have the time to tend a hot compost pile. Simply mix non-woody yard wastes into a pile and let them sit for a year or so. Microorganisms, insects, earthworms, and other decomposers will slowly break down the wastes. A mixture of energy materials and bulking agents provides the best food source and environment for decomposition.
Add fresh wastes to the pile by opening the pile, placing fresh wastes into the center, and covering them. This helps aerate the pile, and also buries the fresh wastes so they do not attract pests.
Fruit and vegetable wastes are particularly appealing to pests,. such as flies, rats and raccoons. To avoid pests, bury these wastes within the pile. If you bury the vegetable wastes in the pile, and pests are still a problem, you may need to screen the pile or keep vegetable wastes out.
You also can bury vegetable wastes directly in your garden. Dig a hole or a trench about a foot deep, add a few inches of vegetable wastes, mix them with the soil, and refill the trench with soil. Another way to avoid pests is to compost vegetable wastes in a worm bin.
Slow composting does not produce the heat needed to kill many weed seeds. It is best to pull and compost weeds before they go to seed. If you put seeds in the compost pile, be prepared for more weeding.
If you create and maintain a balance of air, moisture, and energy for the compost microorganisms, they will produce a hot compost that will break down quickly and kill off many weed seeds and disease organisms. Making hot compost takes extra effort, but it produces a high quality product quickly.
Sometimes you may have several problems to overcome. If you cannot get the pile toheat, all is not lost, because the pile will still break down by the slow method.
Turning the Pile
Use a pitchfork to turn the pile weekly, and add water when needed. Turning gets air into the center of the pile and speeds the biological decay. Turning also mixes material from the outside of the pile into the hot center. Cover the pile during rainy periods so it will not get too wet.
After initial mixing, a regularly turned pile usually stays hot (120'F to 150'F) for several weeks to a month. The pile will shrink to about half its original volume during the hot phase. The pile then needs to sit another for 4 to 8 weeks to cure. Temperatures during curing are 80'F to 110'F. The compost is ready to use when at least 8 weeks have passed since initial mixing, the pile no longer heats when turned, and the material looks dark and crumbly.
Curing affects the availability of nitrogen and the microbial activity of the compost. Uncured compost may harm some plants. This is most likely when compost is used in potting soil or to start seeds. Curing is less critical when small amounts of compost are worked into soil.
Questions and Answers
Part 3: Compost use, health and safety questions
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