By composting, you can add nutrients to your garden’s soil, improving the structure of clay or sandy soils and save water by increasing the soil’s ability to retain water.
Adding compost provides a slow-release of nutrients, which feed plants over a long term and reduces your need for commercially sold fertilizers, saving you money and reducing the risk of fertilizer runoff.
The most efficient way to quickly create compost is in a bin. A compost bin or pile achieves optimal heat at 36 by 36 by 36 inches. The heat generated favors the microorganisms that are the most rapid decomposers.
Many prefab compost models are readily available, or you can build your own with simple fence stakes and galvanized wire fencing — or even repurposed shipping pallets.
The speed in which your materials turn into compost depends on how often you turn it. If it’s turned every other day, you can have compost in as little as three weeks.
To properly create healthy, rich compost, follow this recipe: Mix equal volumes of carbon and nitrogen materials in layers. Materials should be between 0.5 and 1.5 inches in size to decompose faster.
Carbon comes from dry materials, such as dead leaves, dried grass, straw and woody stems, and even shredded paper.
Nitrogen comes from green plant material like lawn trimmings, pruning remnants and from vegetable and fruit scraps from kitchen waste.
Do not add any meat, greasy or saucy foods, dairy products, ashes, diseased plants, animal litter, manure or weeds, such as Bermuda grass.
Thoroughly mix in all materials and take care not to let them mat together, as this excludes oxygen, slowing decomposition.
The other key ingredient is moisture. Locate your compost near a convenient water source, such as a spigot or sprinkler. The compost needs to be kept evenly moist, like a wrung-out sponge. Too wet and it will fester, giving off a foul odor. Too little moisture and the organisms that are essential to the composting process cannot thrive.
Compost is ready when materials have reduced in volume and size and turned dark brown. It should have a pleasant earthy odor. It is now ready to be added to your garden as a soil amendment or mulch.
You can find more information and PDF documents free online. Happy composting!
• The Green Thumb is a column by Tracy’s master gardeners. University of California-certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 953-6112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.