Composting is the most effective and inexpensive way to sustain the soil of an organic farm. Ecology teaches us that everything works in cycles and returning nutrients to your land is vital to its long term health and sustainability. Composting also helps the environment by diverting waste from landfills. There are some easy basic principles that anyone can learn and start composting. First of all there are several different methods of composting. The most widely used and popular method is the heap. This is just a pile of all your waste that you want to compost.
The first guideline is to have the right materials. In order for your compost to break down correctly you need a roughly 50/50 mix of “brown” to “green” ingredients. Brown ingredients are harder to break down and usually drier in nature than green ingredients. This includes all your paper products, egg cartons, yard clippings, crop residues, twigs, etc. Green ingredients are easier to break down. This is all your fruit, vegetable and food scraps, coffee grounds and more. You can also add in animal waste. For the experienced composter human waste can also be composted. The right mix of ingredients and good moisture levels will make your compost decompose quickly and with the right balance of nutrients.
Another important step in composting is to make sure you have microorganisms and bacteria on your side. These will need the proper moisture and oxygen levels to thrive. Often times a few scoops of soil will ensure you have the right microorganisms in your heap.
The last important aspect is temperature. Compost needs to heat up in order to decompose properly. Check the temperature every so often and make sure it’s hot and steamy.
For my compost at Base camp I used a variation on the heap method referred to as Pit composting. It’s very similar to a heap. The big difference is that the heap is located in a pit. We started out with three pits all in a row. The compost heap is made in the first hole using a layering arrangement of brown ingredients, followed by green, then a layer of animal waste and soil. This layering is repeated until the pit is nearly full and then left to get started. After two to three weeks of looking after the heap, making sure it is hot and has enough moisture, we turn it into the next pit. This aerates and mixes the pile. Then a new heap can be created in the first pit. The piles will be turned every 2-3 weeks and then after approximately 90 days your compost should be looking great.
The pit method allows for neat and organized continual composting. After turning my first pile into the next pit this past week, I found worms in my heap. This is a great sign as worms help in the decomposition process and add excellent nutrients to the compost in the form of worm castings. On our next trip out to the Valley this week, I plan to start my second heap and in a couple months I can use my nutrient rich compost as fertilizer in the herb and medicinal plant garden. Happy composting!