Composting for home gardening is a rapidly growing practice. And well it should be. Putting back into the soil all that we take out, minus what we use, is elementary logic.
When we start to compost we must first select an ideal location and choose among a variety of composting container(s). Knowing how much you intend to compost, how quickly you need it, and how much time you have for the project will help you choose wisely.
The choices of materials to compost are almost endless. For instance, I live and garden on the Gulf, and a substantial portion of my compost is thoroughly washed seaweed. All scraps from the garden and all scraps from the kitchen (except meat) go into the compost, as do shredded newspaper and cardboard and tree leaves. (It is not essential, but leaves - especially oaks - decompose faster if shredded.)
The best balance for composting is a ratio of about two to one “brown” vs. “green.” By “brown” I mean leaves, sawdust, wood chips, straw, paper, cardboard, and similar materials, all of which are naturally low in nitrogen. “Green” refers to freshly-cut materials and includes aged manure and similar sources which are high in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will cause unsightly and smelly compost; too little nitrogen will hinder the materials' decay and thus slow the composting process.
Moisture content is another critical item for ideal composting. If the moisture content is too dry, the materials will compost slowly, if at all. If the compost pile is too wet, the composting materials will get slimy and will invite critters no one wants in their garden or compost bin. Careful watering and frequent turning will resolve this problem and give you a balanced natural resource.
How one best uses the compost depends on several factors. If time permits, it is best to apply compost to your garden at least two weeks before planting. At that time, the compost should be well mixed into your soil and watered. For some applications, it may be wise to add a very thin layer of compost (unmixed) on top of the soil.
In some cases, other ingredients may be usefully added to the compost. For example, your soil will retain more oxygen and moisture if perlite, coir (coconut husks), or peat moss is added. Some composters may add a slight sprinkling of slow-release commercial fertilizer to their mix.
The choices and options for composting and home gardening (flower and vegetable) are almost endless. It is a useful, available pleasure that truly makes you a FRIEND OF THE EARTH.
-- Howard Powell, Cedar Key