Feb 28, 2011 04:21PM
● By Stephanie Orlikoff
Simple composting for the backyard begins with at least a one-yard batch, which generally requires a space three feet deep by three feet wide and three feet in length. The decomposition process is slow and occurs over a period of six weeks to a year, depending upon the methods used. While it is more difficult to heat up smaller amounts, it can still be done.
Air – 50 percent moisture
1/3 – green material (nitrogen)
2/3 – brown material (carbon)
A good sense of smell and an old thermometer from an unused grill are key to making the best healthy compost. The microscopic herd of organisms eating, digging, aerating, metabolizing and cycling generates heat, the indicator that they are working and growing in numbers as the gauge rises. Checking moisture is easily done by tightly squeezing a fistful of material; if one to two drops of liquid are released, that indicates 50 percent moisture, which is optimal. Too much or too little moisture reduces the compost quality and increases the time it takes to decompose.
The Correct Ratio
Make two even piles of brown (carbon) vegetation, such as dead leaves and grass, hay, twigs and sawdust; and one even pile of green (nitrogen) vegetation, such as living plant material, leaves, fresh-cut grass and vegetables.
One Green, Two Brown
Evenly scoop one pile of green and two of brown, and then repeat the cycle, all the while adding water. Once finished, place it your container or bin and pack it down to create contact and generate heat. This is only a starting point. Different materials will contain different levels of carbon and nitrogen, so adjustments will be made to improve the composting process as you monitor it by using your thermometer and checking moisture.
Nitrogen generates heat at 50 percent moisture with the right balance of carbon. If the compost gets too hot—over 160 degrees—stir, flip, turn, roll and tumble the material to aerate it. If this doesn’t work, add some brown material (carbon) or water, as the heat facilitates evaporation. If the compost temperature drops below 130 degrees, add green material, which is the fuel. Moisture should still be about 50 percent.
Compost that is ready to spread should look dark, brown and crumbly. Your nose will help you determine when the compost is finally ready to use. It should have a sweet, earthy smell, which is also a good indicator of compost quality.