As is common with most first-time composters, my first year of backyard composting was a complete disaster. I tried it in a barrel that was rolled around on the ground every week or so, and all I ended up with was a gooey mess inside. The greatest lessons in life are learned from failures, but it's important to not give up when efforts fall short of success. With a few years of frustrating composting cycles now under my belt, I can proudly say that I can compost - and do it pretty well.
Now, i'd like to share what I have learned about the process with Joe, who is one of my readers.
Terms frequently used in composting are:
Browns - This is simply a source of carbon, and can be from all kinds of sources - paper, straw, wood, fallen leaves, etc.
Greens - This is simply a source of nitrogen, and can be from all kinds of sources, too - grass clippings, UCG's, vegetable and fruit scraps, dry dog food, dry molasses, and alfalfa meal or pellets, etc.
UCG's - Used coffee grounds
The reading material concerning composting education is confusing to most, and even I had a difficult time understanding what it all meant. I mean, it seems that everyone has their own idea on how to do it, and most even get way too technical when discussing the subject. It isn't rocket science.....We are simply trying our best to duplicate what naturally happens in nature - but at a much more accelerated rate.
Fact: A pile that has a C:N ratio of 30:1 is best. This is supported by every agricultural institution, but what does it mean?
It simply means that if you construct a pile that has ingredients that (combined) measures 30 parts carbon and 1 part nitrogen, it has the ideal proportions of browns and greens for decomposition to take place.
How does a person achieve this combination?
Everything has a C:N value, and here are some values of ingredients....
Leaves - 50:1
Paper - 400:1
Grass clippings - 15:1
Fruit scraps - 35:1
Vegetable scraps - 20:1
UCG's - 20:1
*Mix ingredients by volume, not weight.....
If you combine equal parts of leaves and grass clippings, the overall C:N ratio would be 32:1
- leaves and UCG's, the overall C:N ratio would be 35:1
- paper and grass clippings, the overall C:N ratio would be 207:1
If paper is your only resource of browns, you will need to add TONS of greens to achieve an overall mixture of 30:1. It would be something like -
1 part paper, 20 parts grass clippings - for an overall combined C:N ratio of 33:1
*Needless to say, paper is not a good choice of browns......
Build a pile that is between 3' x 3' x 3' and 4' x 4' x 4', because as the core temperature of the pile heats up, it needs an insulator to keep the heat from dissipating into the atmosphere. The outer crust of the pile serves this purpose......Also, a pile larger than 4' x 4' x 4' won't let air reach the microbes in the center. So, that's the reason why size of pile matters............
Also, the pile has to be watered occasionally - but don't over do it....I use rainwater for mine, because municipal water will kill the microbes that do all the work for you. A healthy population of microbes is the key to rapid decompostion of a compost pile.
Once the ingredients and moisture level are correct, the pile will heat up. I like for mine to be between 130 and 150 degrees, and use a compost thermometer to measure the internal core temperature at least once per week. Once the temp falls below 110 degrees, turn the pile and add some water. If you have some greens to add, throw them in there too. Things will heat back up again in a day or two. If the temperature is between 130-150, don't disturb it - let the microbes do their thing....
Obviously, the best time to compost is during warm weather, but it's not always possible to have enough greens/browns on hand to do this at this time of year. I've found it best to accumulate bagged leaves in the fall, then build a new pile as grass clippings become available during warm weather. Doing the opposite is not suggested, because the grass clippings stored in bags clumps really bad, and must be broken up throughout the entire composting cycle. For the record, it takes ALOT of leaves to amount to anything.
I hope this post was helpful to anyone that takes the time to read it - especially my friend Joe....
Take care, and happy composting!