Here is an article I wrote on the subject, hope this helps.
The Dirt on Composting
Composting has been a part of my life for many years and I have come a very long way. My first compost pile was started in the 5th grade, after an Earth Day celebration at school, I was determined to save the world so I immediately ran home and put a gallon jug of water in the toilet (to conserve precious drinking water with every wasteful flush) and began explaining to my parents why we needed to put our kitchen scraps outside. Needless to say, I failed to understand the concepts of composting and we had a very small pile of rabbit food on the concrete pad in the corner of the backyard. My father still chides me about the pile of “trash” I put under the clothes line when I was younger.
Over the years, I have made many mistakes with my composting and still work on perfecting the art of making dirt. My biggest failure was when I took a Rubbermaid trash can and simply threw my kitchen scraps and yard clippings into it. What started out as an economical way to make dirt quickly turned into a maggot farm. I will not describe to you the utter grossness of this container but it reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie. To dispose of the contents of this failed attempt, I had to bury it while gagging and shaking off the bug willies. This experience was a wake-up call for me, I decided to actually learn about the process of composting. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I have gleaned through my interest in making compost.
First off, it is important to understand exactly what you are trying to do and why when you decide to become a composter. This is very exciting business, almost like alchemy, you are taking waste and turning it into black gold for your garden. The reasons for this are many. You may want to cut down on the amount of waste you are adding to the landfills, food will not properly decompose in the garbage dump environment. You may want to grow a healthier garden by adding some rich compost for free. Compost is the frugal gardeners delight, you get fertilizer for your garden for free, it just takes a little work. Whatever the reason you decide to become a composter, you are recycling the nutrients and minerals from your waste back into the earth while saving space in landfills and becoming more self-sufficient.
During composting, you are speeding up the natural act of decomposition. Thrown on the ground, all organic matter will rot given enough time. What a compost pile is designed to achieve is rapidly decomposing the matter while heating up the pile enough to sterilize it. You need water, nitrogen and carbon to make your pile work properly. For carbon, it is best to add small twigs, leaves and other woody material. For nitrogen you need grass clippings, kitchen waste and other garden waste (like those veggies that are a little too ripe to eat or the plants you have pulled out). Compost piles utilize bacteria to break down the matter in them. There are two types of bacteria that do this work. The first is aerobic bacteria, these little fellas need lots of air and work very quickly leaving behind no odor. This are the good guys in composting. The other bacteria are anaerobic bacteria, this is the source of foul odors and other yuckiness generated by decomposing. Anaerobic bacteria can be eliminated by having a well maintained pile that receives enough air and water. A compost pile should be as damp as a wrung out sponge, this is achieved through proper watering and turning the pile.
When using kitchen waste it is important NOT to use anything with meat or dairy. This means no food cooked with animal grease (lard, bacon etc…). Never add meat to your compost pile, meat can harbor parasites that may not be killed in composting and the smell of the meat will invite critters into the pile for dinner. Do not add fresh manure, once again, this could harbor harmful micro-organisms. I love to use horse or rabbit manure in my pile, but it must be old. In other words, I let it sit in a pile all by itself till it no longer has an odor. It is important to cover all kitchen scraps with dirt or yard wastes to prevent a bug infestation. I keep a bucket with a tight fitting cover under my kitchen sink, I simply put my wastes in there and dump it every other day or when full. I add my coffee grinds (filter and all), egg shells, vegetable and fruit peels, pasta, old bread, and the unidentifiable rotting objects from the vegetable drawer.
There are many ways to build a pile and there are several items on the market for composting. I know a handful of people who have purchased the compost tumblers. These are big barrel type objects with a handle for turning, you add your wastes and turn the barrel. These are very easy to use and everyone I know who has one loves it. However these are above my price range and can only hold so much matter. You can use a trashcan to compost but you must drill enough holes all over the bin to keep it well drained, often these types get way too wet and the anaerobic bacteria take over while the bugs go to breeding. My favorite way of constructing a compost pile is to use pallets. Shipping pallets are made of untreated lumber (it is important NOT to use treated lumber, it can leach harmful chemicals into your compost pile). Rather than nail them together, take some bungee cords and hold the 4 pallets together. Then add a bottom made of chicken wire OR line the bottom of the pile with twigs. This allows airflow onto the bottom of the pile. Now start layering your wastes. Make sure to add layers of kitchen waste and layers of yard waste. Make sure the pile is moist, in our climate, this is one of the biggest challenges. Sprinkling the pile with water hose every other day or so depending on rain will keep it cooking. If you want to speed up the process, be sure to turn your pile once a week to once a month. This can be done easily with a pitchfork, I know a lady who does this as part of her work out.
A properly working compost pile will heat up enough to sterilize all weed seeds and pathogens while creating dark loamy dirt which resembles good quality top soil. Compost piles should never smell or attract bugs. Composting can be a rewarding experience for the whole family and one which should make you feel really good about yourself.
For more information on composting contact your county extension agent, call us at Deep Roots Nursery 534-5001 or visit one of the following websites:http://www.vegweb.com/composting/http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1189.htmlhttp://www.gnb.ca/0009/0372/0003/0001-e.html