If you want to build soil that is full of life and will nurture your seeds into healthy plants keep on reading! To do this we need organic matter which we divide into three different categories: compost, mulches and cover crops. This post will touch on Compost.
Compost which is known as "black gold" to many gardeners is the rich end product of decomposition. This is done by piling up organic matter in a bin or mound and letting it rot. We all generate organic matter such as kitchen scraps, raked up leaves and grass clippings.
If you pile this stuff together for a few months and let them rot this will become compost; however, there is a more efficient way to make compost. This is done by having the right ratio of carbon to nitrogen, optimum water content, air content and size.
Size is important because you'll need your compost pile to be at least three feet in size to insulate the pile enough. The pile will need to reach the critical temperature of 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for microbes to accelerate growth, breakdown the contents and kill seeds. If this temperature isn't reached and cold compost is spread out onto the garden, the un-sterilized seeds will burst into many weeds and/or other types of plants.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that it's ideal to maintain an overall CARBON:NITROGEN ratio of 30:1...To most gardeners who aren't complete keener's this probably sounds confusing but let's start here.
Brown items such as dried leaves, straw, wood shavings and hay are high in carbon. Green materials like grass cuttings, plant trimmings and kitchen waste are high in nitrogen. One exception to consider is manure which is technically brownish but it's actually high in nitrogen. Mixing half green with half brown usually creates the right ratio of 30:1.
When building the pile it's best to build it up in layers no more than 6 inches thick. It's also helpful to add small amounts of compost from another young pile or add in soil to the pile from a variety of ecosystems. This maximizes the biodiversity of the soil.
The pile will also need water, getting it be as moist as a wrung out sponge is perfect. Once it's moist it can be a good idea to cover with a tarp especially in the summer to try and get it to retain the water and also keep the rain from leaching out any nutrients.
About a few days after your pile's initial burst of internal heat it's essential that the pile is turned which speeds up decomposition. A properly turned pile can be turned to black gold in about three weeks if done right. However, don't get mixing happy because the nutrients will become fully mineralized and will not be able to supply your plants for very long with the nutrients they need.
I hope this basic information helped to grow your compost pile or get one started for the first time!
I will post about mulches in the upcoming posts, let me know if you guys would like any other information or have any questions. I am learning as I go too so we can learn together!