Thursday, November 03, 2016

Composting

I am lucky to have access to basic materials for composting. The mango tree provides leaves, rich in carbon, the grass trimmings and kitchen wastes (vegetables and fruits) provide sources of nitrogen. Together they supply renewable sources of ingredients to produce compost for my plants as well as improve my soil quality.

Although I had replaced the garden soil 3 years ago the general soil condition is still sandy and clayey with poor drainage where it is hard. Fortunately, over the years most of the top 2-3 inches are tillable and some earthworms have made their homes underneath feeding on dead grass clippings on the surface. Still, I need to make the soil better aerated and less compacted. So I decided to make composting a regular activity in my gardening work. Besides, I don't have to throw them out with the other garbage.

Initially, I had some trouble choosing the right composting method. Eventually, I settled on pile composting. Essentially the method involves layering the dried leaves and the grass clippings and kitchen wastes one after the other and sprinkling some water. The approximate ratio is 3 parts leaves to 1 part grass and kitchen wastes. After that, a large piece of tarpaulin is placed over it and pegged down to keep the heat in and any rain water out. Composting is really a process of decomposing organic materials into more easily digestible form. The process takes anything from several weeks to several months, depending on whether the compost heap is turned regularly to allow oxygen to speed up the process. In my method, I turn the pile every week and by the 6th week, the compost is ready for use. Care must be taken not to exceed the kitchen waste portion which can cause fermentation and attract flies and insects to lay eggs. No meat and fish waste should be used as they attract rodents.

To produce compost of finer texture as well as speed up decomposing, the dried leaves are shredded using the lawn mower with a catcher. While the first batch of compost is being prepared on the ground, the next batch is made inside a drum which is rolled on its side every week. I know my compost is breaking down well when I can feel the heat inside the pile. It means the bacteria are digesting the organic materials and the colors started changing to brown then nearly black. The smell of the compost becomes earthy. To aid decomposing, some soil is sprinkled into the compost pile. Adding some of the older compost is also helpful since they provide microorganism that helps the process of breaking down the organic materials.

Compost is an important soil conditioner as well as a source of organic fertilizer in the form of humus. Compost also aid as a mulch when spread on top of the soil to reduce moisture loss on hot days. Besides, they provide a continual source of organic fertilizer, saving me some money in the process. Today I discovered my soil condition has improved tremendously. New compost is used mainly to condition soils for potted plants and fertilize them periodically.

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