Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Most gardens don’t start with great soil. Adding compost will improve its texture, water-holding capacity and fertility. Compost is teeming with all kinds of microorganisms and soil fauna that help convert soil nutrients into a form that can be readily absorbed by your plants. Unlike organic or inorganic fertilizers, which need to be applied at the right time and in the right amount, compost can be applied at any time and in any amount. You can’t really over-apply it. Plants use exactly what they need, when they need it. Show your garden some love by treating it to regular doses of compost. While all Blackwood’s stores supply quality compost ready for you to lovingly apply to your gardens and potted plants, a growing trend, if space allows, is to start your own compost heap. A healthier garden can come at no extra cost to you once you start saving your family’s scraps and turning them into “plant food.” Here’s a very quick guide to what should or should not be added to your compost pile.
What’s needed to make healthy compost are 4 main ingredients:
- CARBON: You can identify products that will have lots of carbon, as they are dry, tough, or fibrous and usually tan or brown in colour. Examples are dry leaves, straw, rotted hay, sawdust, shredded paper, mealie stalks, etc.
- NITROGEN: Freshly pulled weeds, fresh grass clippings, over-ripe fruits and vegetables, kitchen scraps and other moist green matter are the sorts of nitrogen-rich materials you’ll probably have on hand.
- OXYGEN: When your compost pile is first assembled, there will probably be plenty of air between the layers of materials. But over time, as the microorganisms begin their work, they will start consuming oxygen. For this reason, it’s so important that you periodically aerate your compost pile by turning the contents over with a garden fork.
- WATER: Moisture is very important for the composting process. However, please note that too much moisture will drown the microorganisms, and too little will dehydrate them. You can sprinkle the pile with water when you turn and aerate it. It’s also an idea to use an enclosed container for your compost, or covering your pile with a tarp. This will help to make it easier to maintain the right moisture level.
To assist in creating a compost heap that decomposes well and gets you off to a great start, a simple rule is to use about 3 times as much “brown” materials (carbon) as “green” materials (nitrogen).
The recommended practice is to layer or alternate these greens and browns, the same way as you would for making lasagna. Your bulkier organic materials do best in the first ground layer, so start with a layer of browns, such as twigs, leaves and straw. Next, layer on some green materials, such as kitchen waste and grass clippings. Continue to add layers of nitrogen and carbon materials, sprinkling with water if needed, and aerate it fairly regularly.