Black Gold ...aka Humus (hyoo-mus): A Guide to Composting
January 27, 2015
It is early in the growing season yet, but this does not mean you shouldn't be planning for the spring. One way you can start preparing for the spring is to get your compost going.
Good compost is something I get excited about. The biggest and best takeaway you should get from reading this is that compost is waste diverted into something really great for your little micro-environment. You can divert as much as 30% of your household waste by composting. And this compost-->humus will make your property’s soil so much richer in a natural way.
SUPPLIES FOR COMPOSTING
You will need a small indoor container (we use the 4 quart OXO pop-up container – while you can see the contents, you will never smell them when it is closed; you can get very nice looking enamel or stainless containers - check here for some ideas),
This is our trusty little OXO container by the kitchen
sink, ready to catch our scraps for compost.
a larger outdoor container (I will come back to this),
We started off with a large pot by our front doorstep
when we lived in a basement apartment, before
graduating to a big, homemade compost bin after
we bought a house.
a pitchfork to turn the compost (or a trowel if you have a pot as a compost bin),
4' Pitchfork for manual compost-turning in a big bin.
and some old containers to store your black gold/humus (we use old pet food bags if we need them – most of the time we just dump humus directly where we want to add earthly nutrients).
As I mentioned above, you will need a small indoor container and a larger outdoor container to keep your composting scraps. This sounds like you need to have a house in the suburbs with a yard, right? Not so.
Even if you live in an apartment, as long as you’ve got a little patio or a balcony, or a place where you can keep a big pot outdoors, you can create some good compost.
This is precisely what husband and I did when we lived in the city in a basement apartment. It’s absolutely doable, and it takes no more effort than if you had a compost bin and a yard. (Apparently some people do compost indoors, but I’d recommend against it for any smell/bug purposes, unless you’d like to try the Bokashi compost bin mentioned further on in this post.)
If your apartment front door is the only place for a big composting pot, you can always cut a piece of plywood or other material to fit as a lid and set a smaller potted plant on top.
As long as you have a small indoor container to catch your compostable scraps and a big pot or a compost bin outside in which to collect and compost those scraps, you can get started right now!
WHAT TO COMPOST
Here are things you should compost:
Here are things you should NOT compost:
Now that you’ve begun collecting your first compost scraps, this is what you can do in preparation of your first outdoor composting contribution:
*Keep in mind: Compost needs air and water. Compost small scraps for faster decomposition to humus.
Place a layer of sticks, approximately 2-3" thick, at the bottom of your outdoor composting container (unless you have a turning barrel). This helps with aeration and attracting good bugs for decomposition of your scraps.
Mix layers of materials you want to compost, distinguishing between brown/dry/carbon layers and green/wet/nitrogen layers. The general ratio of materials you’d like to keep for healthy compost is:
2/3 of Brown material (includes leaves and twigs, shredded newspaper, torn up cardboard, wood shavings or ash)
Brown/Carbon composting scraps.
1/3 of Green material (includes grass clippings, fruit/veg scraps, un-diseased plant cuttings)
Green/Nitrogen composting scraps.
Ideally, your outdoor composting container should not be larger than 4 cubed feet to ensure proper aeration.
If you have a turning barrel, you can turn your compost by cranking the handle. If you have a stationary box or pot, you will need to manually turn the compost with a pitch fork (or trowel), stabbing to the bottom and turning over your fork full of compost scraps.
Some of the best ways to speed along your humus production include turning your compost, keeping it moist but not soggy, and tearing up/cutting/shredding large scraps. When you first start your compost pile, you can kickstart decomposition by adding an organic accelorator.
Worms contribute to the decomposition of your compost (vermicomposting), and they move in on their own to outdoor containers (excepting turning barrels). I even found worms in the outdoor pot we composted in at our basement apartment. Just make sure the container has access to the ground (our old pot had a hole in its bottom and sat on bricks).
Composting is further accelerated with natural heat. The compost’s temperature naturally begins to rise as your scraps decompose. The drawback here is that during winter months, I have noticed this attracts mice and other rodents seeking out the heat.
Rodents can import disease, so it is best to do what you can to naturally deter them from setting up house in your compost. Keeping your compost moist and turned regularly is the best organic deterrent. Rodents like the warmth, and your compost is usually dryer during winter, as you are probably not adding as much moisture. Not providing these conditions will discourage them from going to your compost in the first place.
They also get a free meal, if you are still adding scraps throughout winter (if you’d rather not feed them but still want to compost during winter, you can try a Bokashi compost bucket).
Placing a tarp over the top of your compost in fall will limit the amount of oxygen that can get in, further making your compost a less hospitable place for rodents to nest in winter. Be sure to remove the tarp when temperatures stay above the freezing point in spring to reactivate decomposition.
In as few as a couple of weeks (longer in winter), you'll begin to see beautiful black humus that will enrich your garden and your environment, fortifying your plants and beautifying your space.
I wish you success!
You can make a nutrient-rich leaf-mould tea that you can use to water your plants. Gather a bunch of leaves into a piece of burlap, wrap it up and dunk it into a water-filled bucket for 3 days. At the end of three days, empty the leaves from the burlap into your outdoor compost container and use the water in the bucket to water your houseplants.