10 tips for creating the perfect compost

Compost has been called the universal cure for what ails your garden, and it is by far the chief way to enrich your soil naturally. Here are 10 tips to keep your compost pile in a state of healthy decomposition.

10 tips for creating the perfect compost

The merits of compost

Once you start using it, you'll discover that you never have enough of this black gold to work into the soil, use as top mulch, add to container plants or even used to make into a disease-fighting tea.

1. Just add water

  • If your compost doesn't compost, add water until its consistency is similar to that of a wrung-out sponge.
  • If the compost pile is too damp, insert a few thin layers of an absorbent material like sawdust, peat or cut hay, until you reach the right consistency.

2. Shred and chop

Shredded or chopped materials decompose faster than bulky ones.

  • Before you put materials into the compost bin, cut up big broccoli stalks, break corncobs in half and reduce the size of other large items, such as citrus or melon rinds.
  • Break up sticks and run your mower over dry leaves a couple of times before adding them to your heap.

3. Cool compost is good

Compost piles that get hot have the advantage of killing some weed seeds and harmful microorganisms, but it can be difficult to run a hot heap if you're not using manure or lots of fresh green grass clippings.

  • Cool compost, which decomposes slowly and never heats up, often retains more plant nutrients than hot heaps.

4. Be adventurous

While you should avoid composting all animal products except eggshells, many other throwaways are great for the compost pile.

  • Among the materials you might try are shellfish hulls, wine-bottle corks, used matches, chewing gum, nutshells, shredded paper and the cotton balls from medicine bottles.

5. Compost likes strange soup

Pour vegetable cooking water, water from cut-flower arrangements, and leftover coffee, tea or broth into the compost heap instead of down the drain.

6. Turn your heap into a garden

  • Take advantage of the rich soil around the base by sowing a few nasturtium seeds, which will scale the heap prettily and produce flowers for picking.
  • Plant winter squash or pumpkins, which love growing around the edges of old compost piles.
  • Sunflowers and tomatoes often pop up in old piles, too. If you like, you can lift the seedlings and transplant them to other parts of your garden.

7. Protect against flooding

  • To prevent your compost heap from getting too wet in rainy weather, place a layer of hay, dried grass or a piece of old carpet atop the pile.

When the compost is done, store it in a dry can or plastic bag until you're ready to use it in your garden.

8. Turn compost materials regularly

  • Turn compost materials regularly to provide oxygen for the organisms that induce decomposition.

A pitchfork makes a perfect turning tool. If you're adding a big load to an enclosed composter, use a broom or rake handle to poke air holes in the pile.

9. Can’t mix?

Layer the compost heap with a mix of materials to ensure rapid decomposition.

  • Alternate layers of high-carbon matter, such as shredded leaves, straw, hay or wood chips with layers of high-nitrogen grass clippings, garden trimmings, manure and vegetable or fruit scraps from the kitchen.
  • Add new matter to the hot centre of the pile to speed breakdown and hide it from flies or other critters.

10. Take a sniff

A compost pile should give off no unpleasant odours. A bad-smelling pile is your clue that the compost isn't getting enough air or has too much water or fresh, wet materials.

  • To remedy the problem, incorporate dry, carbon-rich materials, such as shredded leaves, sawdust or old hay.
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