Cooking with Compost
Most if not all of us have enjoyed a well-prepared lasagna; comprised of many layers of various foods with different textures, and tastes that complement the next layer. Well a compost pile is no different. Using a wide range of materials placed in layers even going as far as to “cook” the pile you can certainly look at creating and maintaining your own compost pile the same as baking a good lasagna.
Composting involves mixing yard and household organic waste in a pile or bin and providing conditions that encourage decomposition. The decomposition process is fueled by millions of microscopic organisms (bacteria, fungi) that take up residence inside your compost pile, continuously devouring and recycling it. This process then produces a rich organic soil amendment which can then be used for mulch or fertilizer. Typically, you want to find a nice place in the sun with good air movement to start your compost pile. There are several specially made bins for composting, but you can use a trash can with holes drilled in it, a wire cage, or even the old-fashioned pile method (if using the cage or pile method aim for a size of 3x3x3 ft. to keep it manageable). When starting a compost pile, it is important to put alternating layers of high nitrogen items sometimes called greens like grass clippings, vegetable waste, weeds, hay etc.; with layers of high carbon or browns such as sawdust, dead leaves, shredded paper etc. Once you start the compost pile you must routinely flip/stir the pile to make sure that it “bakes” throughout. As the microbes begin to eat away at the material and break it down they produce heat; once they run out of material to eat/break down the temperature will begin to fall on the inside of the pile. Using a thermometer or your hand to gauge the inside temperature, when you notice a decrease in temperature, that is the sign of when to flip/stir your compost.
Over time as the microbes break down the pile it should begin to have a dark rich color while crumbling easily and having a sweet smelling earthy fragrance. As the pile finishes being broken down the internal temperature will also begin to mellow out indicating that your compost cooking project is complete. The amount of time it takes your compost to finish depends on many variables such as size, materials used, moisture content, amount of sunlight, management, time of year etc.
TIPS: the addition of worms can help speed up the process; placing your pile on a wood pallet can help circulation; keeping your pile moist but not too wet or dry gives the microbes a good environment; coffee grounds are a great addition to any pile; for faster composting place your compost in direct sunlight.
For more information on composting, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service of Nacogdoches County at (936) 560-7711, or visit our website at http://nacogdoches.agrilife.org.