Since its autumn now and there’s dead leaves over all the garden, you may be wondering what to do with that heap of leaves you just raked from your garden.No, please dont throw them away!They can be used for composting!
The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.
The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than with turned compost.
With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin. This can be easily done in an Aerobin Composter, or a Eco King compost bin.
Enclosed Compost Bins
For small-scale outdoor composting, enclosed bins are the most practical. Enclosed bins include:
DIY Compost Bin
The least expensive method is to build one yourself from a heavy-duty garbage can. Simply drill 0.5-cm aeration holes in rows at roughly 5-cm intervals around the can. If the lid is secure, the bin can be laid on its side and rolled to provide aeration.
Standard Compost Bins/Digesters
Compost bins are enclosed on the sides and top, and open on the bottom so they sit directly on the ground. These bins are inexpensive, but it is difficult to turn the compost, so it can take several months to produce compost. These bins are thin-walled plastic, and may chip along the edges, especially during a freeze, so they are not recommended.
The most efficient enclosed bin method is the compost tumbler. It’s possible to maintain relatively high temperatures, both because the container acts as insulation and because the turning keeps the microbes aerated and active. Some designs provide an interior “paddle” or “aeration spikes” which help bring air into the compost and prevent clumping of the composting materials. Other designs have holes on the ends for aeration. This greatly speeds up the composting process.
Always cover fruits and vegetables with 1-2 inches of grass clippings or ‘brown’ material like straw to prevent smells and flies.
Always remember-layer the compost with one part green(fresh material) and one part brown(dead material)
No meat and bones please(flies love them too)
If the compost smells like ammonia-which is basically the smell of rotten eggs/urine, add carbon-rich elements such as straw, peat moss, or dried leaves.Smells are an indicator that the compost isn’t composting as it should.
Large-bodied plants like tomatoes and broccoli can be chopped a bit smaller to make it easier to compost by increasing surface area for microbes
Check on your compost twice a week!
Add leaves in small batches to avoid matting
The composting process speeds up when the materials are well mixed. Add just a few handfuls of leaves at a time to the compost bin; if you add too many leaves they will mat together into a soggy mass and slow down the process.
Is Your Compost Pile Soggy?
This is a common problem, especially in winter, when carbon-based materials are in short supply. To solve this problem, you’ll need to restore your compost to a healthy nitrogen-carbon balance.
Matted Leaves, Grass Clippings Clumping Together?
This is a common problem with materials thrown into the composter. The wet materials stick together and slow the aeration process. There are two simple solutions: either set these materials to the side of the composter and add them gradually with other ingredients, or break them apart with a pitchfork. Grass clippings and leaves should be mixed with rest of the composting materials for best results.
What About Weed Seeds?
Slow or incomplete composting don’t generate enough heat to kill all weed seeds. With home compost bins or piles, the way to eliminate weed seeds is twofold:
- Make sure your compost is hot enough.
Reach your hand into the center of the pile – it should be almost too hot for comfort. Specifically, the temperature should be 130 – 150 degrees F. It takes about 30 days at 140 degrees to kill all weed seeds.
- Mix your pile.
While your compost may be hot in the center of the mass, the outside of the pile is cooler, giving seeds a chance to survive. Mixing brings cooler material to the warmer area and also increases aeration, which helps attain the higher heat levels. Compost tumblers are very useful for this.
Deciduous leaves are best; do not use evergreen leaves such as holly, laurel and conifers. Wait until the leaves start turning brown before raking them up.
Fresh grass clippings are nitrogen rich and serve as compost activators. Add grass clippings to your compost in thin layers to prevent matting. Then add twice the volume in brown materials to balance the carbon-nitrogen ratio.
If you have too many leaves to incorporate into the compost bin, you can simply compost the pile of leaves by itself. Locate the pile where drainage is adequate; a shaded area will help keep the pile from drying out.
The leaf pile should be at least 4′ in diameter and 3′ in height. Include a layer of dirt between each foot of leaves. The pile should be damp enough that when a sample taken from the interior is squeezed by hand, a few drops of moisture will appear. The pile should not be packed too tightly.
The pile will compost in 4 – 6 months, with the material being dark and crumbly. Leaf compost is best used as an organic soil amendment and conditioner; it is not normally used as a fertilizer because it is low in nutrients.
TIP: Leaf-Mould Tea
Use leaves to make a nutritious “tea” for your plants. Simply wrap a small pile of leaves in burlap and immerse in a garbage can or large bucket of water. Leave for three days, then remove the “tea bag” and dump contents into the compost. Scoop out the enriched water with a smaller bucket and use to water your plants and shrubs.
Composting in apartments
Small, portable, and fast(two to three times faster), these worm composters quickly process household waste, producing nutrient-rich ‘worm tea’ suitable for houseplants and planter boxes. Best of all, worm composters don’t require turning since the worms do the turning for you, your main job is to feed them regularly and give them the conditions they need to thrive.
DIY worm composter:
A good model uses two stacked totes —the upper tote perforated on the bottom for drainage and for worm travel. This version has two important benefits. First, you always have a place to add kitchen scraps, even when one of the totes in full. Second, the worms will make their way between totes—crawling through the holes from one to the other—to access the tote with fresh, ready-to-compost scraps. This means that with a two-story model, you can harvest the finished compost from one tote without having to separate the worms from the soil.
Ready-made worm composter:
The Worm Factory 360 is a great option for anyone looking to convert kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer with little bother. Made from recycled plastic that comes in three colors, the Worm Factory 360 has four stacking trays, a worm ladder, a vented lid, and a spigot for siphoning off ‘worm tea.’ The design ensures odorless decomposition and offers plenty of room for your daily scraps.
What about the worms?
You’ll need to purchase worms for your worm composter. Red wigglers are the most efficient compost worms and are widely available from most suppliers. Night crawlers are larger and can also be used as bait.If you are living in the tropics, malaysian blue worms are for you.Allow one square foot of space per pound of worms.
Is a worm composter right for you?
- Worm composters work well indoors or on a small balcony, providing temperatures stay between 40 and 80 F. Worms won’t survive a deep freeze and should be brought indoors when temperatures plummet. Worms also need to be protected from overheating and drowning—so watch out for direct sun and rain.
- You can add kitchen scraps continually to your worm compost, though having multiple totes or tiers means you never have to separate worms from finished compost.
- Worm composting is best for small-scale, small-batch composting.In fact you can scale it up for large batch composting too as worms can double about once per month and eat lots of food under optimal conditions.
Golden rule:one part browns to one part greens-the temperature shouldnt be too high then.Mist occasionally if you find the compost too dry.
Higher temperatures will cause worms to be more active, but not too high.Measure the temperature daily using a temperature probe or thermometer.
Tip:stick the thermometer(if you can) in your compost and check once daily.