Au­tumn’s a good time for mak­ing com­post

The Commercial Appeal - - Mlife - Lee Re­ich | AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gar­den cleanup, lawn mow­ing and fall­ing leaves all pro­vide ma­te­ri­als that make au­tumn a good time of year for com­post­ing. No need for ex­otic in­gre­di­ents, fancy equip­ment or a de­gree in soil mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy to put to­gether a pile that yields qual­ity com­post and is not un­pleas­antly aro­matic.

Hous­ing for your com­post ‘pet’

You might look upon your com­post pile as a pet, a con­glom­er­a­tion of mil­lions of ben­e­fi­cial fungi, bac­te­ria and other soil micro­organ­isms. The pet ben­e­fits from the right hous­ing.

So one item that can greatly im­prove your com­post-mak­ing is some sort of en­clo­sure – a com­post bin. A bin can fend off rac­coons and stray dogs, as well as re­tain mois­ture and heat gen­er­ated by the hard-work­ing com­post micro­organ­isms. The lat­ter is es­pe­cially im­por­tant as out­door tem­per­a­tures cool.

And if noth­ing more, a com­post bin keeps a com­post pile from look­ing like a garbage pile.

Whether you pur­chase a bin or make one your­self, 9 cu­bic feet is the min­i­mum size for a crit­i­cal mass to gen­er­ate and main­tain heat. My home­made “state of the art” com­post bin was orig­i­nally con­structed from 1-by-12-inch wooden boards, 5 feet long and notched near their ends so that they could be stacked to­gether like Lin­coln Logs.

Nowa­days, I use 1-by-6-inch “man­u­fac­tured wood” (such as Mois­tureshield, Azek or Cor­rect­deck), which should last many, many years. The boards are about 4 feet long and, as be­fore, have notches cut into them so they can stack.

A bin is a min­i­mum re­quire­ment for good com­post; com­post mavens will set up two or more bins. This al­lows in­gre­di­ents in one bin to age and mel­low while ma­te­ri­als are be­ing added to a sec­ond bin.

Food, wa­ter for your com­post ‘pet’

If you be­come even more en­thu­si­as­tic about com­post­ing, you might lav­ish more at­ten­tion on the mix of in­gre­di­ents.

The two most im­por­tant food­stuffs of com­post­ing micro­organ­isms are car­bon and ni­tro­gen. Old, usu­ally brown and dry plant ma­te­ri­als, such as au­tumn leaves, straw and saw­dust, are rich in car­bon. The older the plant ma­te­rial, the richer it is in car­bon.

Ni­tro­gen-rich ma­te­ri­als in­clude suc­cu­lent, green plant parts, such as tomato stalks; veg­etable waste from the kitchen; and grass clip­pings, as well as ma­nures. Es­pe­cially con­cen­trated sources of ni­tro­gen in­clude ni­tro­gen fer­til­iz­ers and seed meals. Soy­bean meal (avail­able at feed stores) is my fa­vorite high-ni­tro­gen feed.

Fuel your com­post with a mix of ni­tro­gen-rich and car­bon-rich ma­te­ri­als. How much of each to add will vary with their com­po­si­tion and par­ti­cle size, but let ob­ser­va­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence be your guides.

A long-probed com­post ther­mome­ter and your nose are good mon­i­tor­ing de­vices. If your pile never heats up – and tem­per­a­tures above 130 de­grees are not un­com­mon – it could be due to an ex­cess of car­bon, weather that’s too cold, or ma­te­ri­als added grad­u­ally over a long a pe­riod of time. Of­fen­sive smells and the pres­ence of flies might in­di­cate the op­po­site prob­lem – too much ni­tro­gen.

At­ten­tion to wa­ter is the next level of care you might lav­ish on your com­post pile. Too lit­tle wa­ter re­sults in lit­tle or no ac­tiv­ity, an­other rea­son why a pile may not heat up. Too much wa­ter drives out air and re­sults in of­fen­sive smells.

No care also works, even­tu­ally

You could do even more for your pile. You could chop the in­gre­di­ents. You could stir the whole mass up and re­build the pile af­ter a few weeks or months.

If all this mess­ing around seems like too much ef­fort, don’t do it all. A ca­su­ally made pile may not gen­er­ate as much heat or fin­ish up as fast as one de­lib­er­ately as­sem­bled, but time has much the same ef­fect on com­post qual­ity as does heat. Ei­ther way, any pile of liv­ing or once liv­ing in­gre­di­ents even­tu­ally be­comes com­post, rec­og­niz­able as a dark brown, crumbly fudge with a woodsy smell.

Do pile those raw ma­te­ri­als into some sort of com­post bin, though.

LEE RE­ICH VIA AP

Good com­post bins make easy work of adding in­gre­di­ents or re­mov­ing com­post.

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