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Composting Facts and Statistics

Composting allows waste organic material to be returned to the earth, replacing soil nutrients lost through agriculture. This process creates a resource from a waste product, contributing to a cyclical society. In a cyclical society, products are recycled within the society, instead of constantly bringing in new inputs and creating waste. Here is a list of 5 questions I get asked the most.

1. Is compost different from soil?

Compost is made up of organic matter, microbes and nutrients that can be used to condition and fertilize flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Compost is a valuable soil booster. It has a high organic matter content and helps return to the soil many properties that are lost over time with use.
Compost contains micro nutrients that improve plant growth. It acts as a “slow-release” fertilizer. Compost also improves the water-holding capacity of your soil.  So not only does compost help you conserve water, it helps keep your water bill down during the summer months.

2. Why should I compost?

When food and yard waste biodegrade in a landfill where there is little oxygen, they generate greenhouse gases comprised of roughly half carbon dioxide and half methane. (Methane is a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide). This makes our landfills the number one single-point source of greenhouse gases.

Composting is one solution to reducing the greenhouse gases produced by our landfills. When composted, food and yard waste biodegrade in an oxygen-rich environment and mother nature can do her work.

3. How do I use compost?

It is very important to know how to use compost for the health of your gardens and lawns.  Compost is not a soil. It is a soil amendment that will add organic matter, microbes and nutrients to your soil.  Typically the ratio for use is one-part compost to three-parts soil.

Uses for compost around the home include flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, adding with soil on newly seeded lawns, as a mulch around plants and on established lawns.

Using compost for lawn topdressing

For best results, aerate the entire area before topdressing using a commercially available aerator. For topdressing, spread 0.5 to 1.25 centimeters (1/8″ to 1/2″) of mature compost evenly over the area using a rake. Water thoroughly. The water helps the compost move through the thatch layer to the soil surface and into aeration holes where it can help retain valuable moisture.

Using Compost for flower beds

For existing beds, add about 2.5 centimeters (1″) of compost and work it into the soil using a rake, hoe, shovel or rototiller. Water until the entire root zone is saturated. For best results with new beds, add 2.5 to 5 centimeters (1″ – 2″) of compost and rototiller to at least a 12 centimeters (5″) depth. Plant and water accordingly. Most annuals and perennials perform well in compost-amended soils.

Using compost for tree plantings

Rototiller an area about three to five times the diameter of the root ball of the tree to be planted. Add about 30 per cent compost by volume to the area and mix thoroughly outside the hole with the native soil. Place the tree into the hole and use the compost amended soil mixture as a back fill around the root ball. Remove excess soil and water thoroughly.

Using compost for vegetable gardens

Apply about 2.5 centimeters (1″) of compost and incorporate into the soil to a depth of 12 centimeters (5″) with a rototiller or by hand. For poor soils, you may need to apply compost on a yearly basis until the soil has improved to your satisfaction. Do not over apply compost because many vegetables will not produce high yields if excess nitrogen is in the soil. Compost used as a mulch can be turned into the soil prior to replanting.

Combining compost with mulch

For mulch applications around annuals, perennials and other landscape plants, a 5 centimeters (2″) layer of compost is optimum. Apply compost and rake to achieve an even application. Avoid over or under mulching because other problems can arise, such as smothering of root systems. Arrange mulch so water flows away from trunks, reducing chances for crown rot. Finer-textured composts do not suppress weeds as well as coarse-textured composts.

Using compost for lawn establishment

For lawns that are going to be seeded or sodded, apply about 2.5 to 5 centimetres (1″ – 2″) of compost and rototill to a depth of 12 centimetres (5″). For seeded lawns, apply seed and then a slight dusting of compost to cover seed. For sod and seeded lawns, thorough irrigation is necessary. Compost helps increase grass seed germination by providing adequate seed to soil contact, moisture and balanced nutrients. A regular fertility program should be established once the lawn is about eight weeks old or when it has been mowed for the second time.

Making compost tea

Compost tea is a good “perk” for your plants. It’s simple to make and easy to use. Fill a cloth bag with compost and put it in a barrel or bucket of water.  Your mixture should be about one-part compost to five-parts water. Let it steep for about a week, swirling it around a few times and make sure that the “tea bag” is submerged.  You can then pour the “tea” over your plants. Put the compost bag either back into your compost bin or spread it in the garden.

4- What are the signs that I’m not composting properly?

Composting is not difficult but sometimes the process requires a little extra attention. Here are some easy solutions to correct certain situations that might occur.

The composting process takes too long

If the pile does not decrease in size or generate heat, composting may need a boost. If the pile is dry, add water and mix thoroughly. If the pile is wet and muddy, spread it in the sun and add dry material. As well, the items in the pile may be too large. Chop them into smaller pieces. Remember to save “old” compost to mix with incoming material.

The center of the compost pile is damp, but the rest dry

The compost pile may be too small. Try to keep your compost bin as full as possible. Mix new with old, dry with wet, breaking up mats and clumps.

The compost pile is damp and sweet smelling but not heating

The pile may need more greens (nitrogen). Add grass clippings, fruit or veggie scraps or a sprinkling of organic fertilizer from the garden centre.

The compost pile smells like ammonia

The pile may have too many greens, add more browns (carbon). This will likely happen if you have added too many fresh grass clippings.

The compost pile smells like sulfur (rotten eggs)

The pile may be too wet and not be getting enough air. Loosen up the pile, break up clumps, unblock vents and perhaps add some wood chips to help the pile “breathe.” Turning the pile always helps aeration.

The compost pile is attracting pests

Compost in a container with a cover to prevent animals from getting into the composting materials. A wire mesh around the base can help to prevent pests from digging under the pile. Dig in or cover food waste immediately. If done properly, composting should not attract pests.

5- Can I compost if I don’t have a yard?

Another composting alternative is vermicomposting or composting with worms. Red worms or red wigglers are a type of worm that thrive in organic materials and can eat an amount equal to their weight every day. They produce castings that are a rich compost. They can go through three pounds of garbage per week, keeping unnecessary waste out of the landfill and returning much needed nutrients to the soil. Our favorite tray worm composter is the Worm Factory 360 WF360B Worm Composter (link to Amazon) which uses stackable trays to provide more volume in a small space.

Another option for anyone limited to a small space would be a tumbler composter which is essentially a barrel that is rotated every 2 to 3 days to speed up the composting process. Our favorite tumbler composters are the Yimby Tumbler Composter (link to Amazon) and the Envirocycle Tumbler (Link to Amazon) which claims to be “The Most Beautiful Composter in the World”.

So there you have it! We hope this answers all your composting questions. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have additional questions.

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