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Go Organic > Organic Gardening > Composting


Part of living the organic life is to give back to the earth what she has already given. This can be accomplished with composting. Providing organic manure for your plants and trees encourages the growth factor and increases the harvest. The recommended application of compost is once a year.

For years, humans have been throwing away organic waste that could be put to better use than just sitting in a land-fill. Composting using this food waste along with other materials like the grass trimmings you just mowed under, or the leaves you have raked up will take the strain out of the landfills and give back to nature what was hers in the first place.

If you have livestock, then you have manure. Most people pay others to haul off their animal waste, but instead of hauling it off, how about turning it into something useful like compost?

How to make compost: Building a compost bin

A composting pile needs to be contained in one area. You can build a compost bin, or buy one ready-made. Or you can use what nature has given you to use and create walls for your compost pile using straw bales. You want to go at least two bales high, but since the compost has to cook for awhile, three to four bales high is best. Leave spaces between the straw bales to allow air to circulate throughout the compost. You can insert wedges of wood under each bale to allow for more air flow, and not set the bales tight against each other to bring in more air.

Starting the pile

Once the walls have been constructed, lay down a bed of straw. To the top of the straw add some topsoil, and then just begin to add organic material to the pile; cow manure, horse manure, chicken droppings, raw fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, raw eggs, newspaper, more straw, topsoil, leaves off of trees (non-toxic of course) and other organic material. It is advisable to keep this pile covered if you have outside pets, because they will come to the source of enticing aroma and may even sample the pile. This pile is an open source of bacteria until it is properly decomposed. Some bacteria, such as salmonella can harm a small pet.

If you have a large amount of horse manure or other livestock waste to use, you should lay it out in what they call windrows.

Windrows are long rows of soiled straw and manure.

Typically one horse will expel over 350 pounds of manure per week. That is a lot of manure to deal with. Putting this manure and soiled straw and bedding into windrows will allow you to turn the composting over easily and will also cut down the pest attraction factor.

An effective and rich compost is alive with a host of organisms that adds benefits to the farmer or the gardener. Because of the decomposing, beneficial bugs and parasites are attracted to the piles and help out by feasting on the organic matter and leaving behind waste products that are organically rich. You will still have to supplement the soil with various minerals depending on the soil’s content before you started.

Be aware that when working with large quantities of livestock manure, that the pile cooks within because of certain microorganisms. This can cause small explosions or fire if the pile is not turned on a daily basis. You will see this heat as you move the pile, for as you take off the topmost layer, the interior will smoke. Keeping the windrows away from buildings, yet close enough to the stalls for ease of transporting is a good idea. If you are simply using organic matter for your composting, you will not see this intense cooking effect.

But regardless of what you use, if you undertake open land and open air compost, the material needs to be turned on a daily basis. This helps knock down the potential harmful bacteria and also allows the compost to breathe by introducing air into the pile. It also reduces odor, which your neighbors nearby will thank you for.

Once the compost pile has been started, the microorganisms will become attracted to it. These tiny workers continually work the pile digesting the organic material and eliminating it beginning the cycle of decomposition.

We spoke before of the heat within the pile, and one group of microbe invaders Psychrophiles works efficiently within this heated environment. They consume carbon compounds and release them as amino acids. The hotter the pile gets shows that more of these invaders are hard at work.

As you turn your compost pile, you will notice an almost ashen looking substance. This substance is a good sign and they are called actinomycetes. These are half fungus, half bacteria and will give your compost pile a pleasant smell.

If you notice dark green, fiber-like material and the smell of your compost pile makes you stagger backward, you have grown Anaerobic mold. Anaerobic mold occurs when the oxygen is completely cut off from a composting pile. You do not want this mold to grow in your compost pile. The Anaerobic mold is a result of keeping the compost pile to wet.

Besides the microorganisms that inhabit your compost pile, you will have other beneficial visitors; earth worms, spiders, nematodes, mites, and other insects. You will notice that the earthworms that are feeding on your pile are bigger, plumper and lighter in color than if they were just found in the dirt in your garden. If you see these larger earthworms than you know that this is nature’s way of showing you that you are cultivating a successful compost pile.

One way to harm your composting efforts is to place material in there that is potentially unsafe such as; dog and cat droppings, cat litter, ashes from your fireplace and potato peelings. The only paper that should go into your compost pile should be black and white newspaper.

Composting is a way for all of us to be aware of what we use, what we eat and how we discard the waste. Instead of continuing to be a “throw-away” society we can instead get back to the grass roots and become a greener society and at harvest time reap the benefits of our labor.