The Essentials of Composting
by Blake Robinson
(From The Charlotte Rosebud, January-February 2000)

What is Composting?
Composting is the act of controlling the natural decay of organic matters in a moist, aerobic (oxygen demanding) environment. Tiny organisms break down garden and landscape trimmings to create a valuable product called compost - a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling form of decomposed organic matter.

By composting you control the natural decomposition process by providing the right conditions to convert yard and kitchen trimmings into a product to benefit the rosarian. Compost is a mixture of soil and partly decayed plants. It is used to make the rose beds more fertile and to improve the production of the plants. It may also be spread around plants as mulch,

Why Should I Make Compost?
Composting is a practical and convenient way to handle yard trimmings. It's easier and cheaper than bagging or removing them from your property. The compost created from trimmings enriches your soil and rose bushes. If you have a garden, a lawn, trees, shrubs or houseplants, you have a source of and a use for compost.

Compost improves your soil. When added to soil, compost breaks up heavy clay soils, helps sandy soil retain water and nutrients and releases essential nutrients. Compost also contains beneficial microscopic organisms that build up the soil and make nutrients available to plants. Improving your soil is the first step toward growing healthy roses.

What Can I Compost?
Organic trimmings from your garden and landscape such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, flowers, and the remains of Spring pruning make excellent compost. Kitchen scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings, crushed eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters can also be composted. Woody yard trimmings can be run through a shredder for composting, mulching or for creating paths and walkways.

Organic materials that should not be added to your compost pile include meat, bones, and fatty foods (such as cheese, salad dressings, and leftover cooking oil) and pet litter. Most pests, such as weeds, diseased or insect infested plants are destroyed in "fast" composts where the temperature in the center often reaches 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and the organic wastes are efficiently mixed into the center of the pile.

How Can I use Compost?
Mix compost with soil to enrich the rose and vegetable garden, or use it as mulch. Screen compost by separating the larger particles and any uncomposted materials from the finer ones and add it to the potting mix for houseplants (no more that one-quarter to one-third by volume of the potting mix should be compost) or use as a top dressing for lawns or a mulch on your rose beds.

How Can I Build a Compost Pile?
Commercial devices to contain your compost pile are readily available today. Devices for fast compost production and slow compost production represent the scope of the available market. Another choice is to build your unit from scratch based upon the general characteristics of homemade composters described in most texts on the subject.

Fast compost devices that do a complete job while minimizing the labor involved are delightful devices. Most of these devices are based upon a large composting cylinder that can be spun by hand to mix the compost. I use the Kemp ComposTumbler from:

The Kemp Company
160 Koser Road
Lititz, PA 17543

 

These devices can produce excellent quality compost in two months or less while eliminating the laborious effort of turning the pile. The perfect compost pile calls for 1 part of nitrogen for every 30 parts of carbon in the organic material. You will maximize your production with the proper mix of nitrogen and carbon, combined with rotating the drum 5 complete turns 3 or 4 days per week.

Slow compost devices can be obtained very reasonably through your county recycling program. These devices are available for as little as $25.00 if you sit through a composting class conducted by your County Recycling Department and the County Extension Office. I use a pitchfork to churn the pile rather than trying to turn over the contents. It has been recommended to me that a hole six inches deep beneath the compost bin will help in containing the water you apply to the compost.

Slow composting is the least labor- and time-consuming way to compost. It is ideal for people who do not have a large amount of yard trimmings to compost all at once. This method can take from six months to two years or longer to produce compost, so be patient. The ingredients are the same as those for a fast compost pile. Add greens and browns to your pile whenever they become available. Your goal should be to maintain a ratio of 1 part 'greens' to 30 parts 'browns,' Stir or churn the pile occasionally with a pitchfork.

References: Kemp ComposTumbler; Howard Walters, Rosarian Rambling various, Clemson Extension Service: Information Leaflet 48.