By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder
for PlanTea, Inc. and
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My neighbor, Mrs. Crayneck, loves to bake. But when her world famous
banana bread doesn't turn out quite right, she doesn't sweat the small
"If you can read, you can cook!"
One day, when I was 12 and still climbing trees, Mom came into the kitchen and said, "Honey, how about making dessert for tonight?"
Having just endured months of salad-making for our family of seven, I was ready for a change. Mom picked up an old copy of Gourmet cookbook and started flipping through the pages. It was like watching Wheel of Fortune.
Finally, she pressed her finger to a recipe and said, "Here you go, make this."
Her finger pointed to a chocolate souffle recipe. I was stunned. "Don't worry sweetie," she said. "If you can read, you can cook."
So began my love affair with cooking. I also learned a valuable lesson: You can do whatever you set your mind to, but if you need help in building a house, installing software, or making compost -- follow a recipe!
Let's begin this lesson by de-mystifying compost. We'll make it easier by following a recipe. And as you'll see, making a compost pile is a lot like making a cake. And we can do it in 3 easy steps. 1) Gather up your ingredients, 2) Stir them together, and 3) let it cook. Even Bette Midler knows the value of compost...
Why the Divine "Miss M" loves compost
The "compost cake" recipe
Did you know you can have finished compost in just 3 to 4 weeks? By combining the right ingredients, your compost pile will not only heat up to 140 degrees (F) or more, but it will "cook down" to a fluffy material that is ready to use in the garden.
Step 1: Collect your compost ingredients
For a hot, active compost pile, you need to build it all at once, not over weeks or months. Imagine making a cake by sifting the flour one day, adding eggs and oil the next and then waiting a week or so before mixing everything together and getting it into the oven. It would be a flop. Start collecting ingredients. Go on organic treasure hunts. Talk to your neighbors, ask your friends, scan the classified ads, and remember to check your own back yard.
Did you know the hair on your head contains 30 times more nitrogen
than manure? Next time you go to the hairdresser, ask for a few pounds
of this nitrogen gold mine to add to your compost.
You're looking for a combination of ingredients that will provide the right living conditions for the microorganisms and bacteria that break down the materials in the compost pile. This tiny work force of actimomycetes (act-TIN-OH-my-SEE-tees) must have food, water and oxygen to do their job. They need nitrogen (N) in order to use the carbohydrates or carbon (C) materials as food.
Nitrogen (N) materials include: "Stable scraps" such as horse, rabbit, goat,
chicken and other manures, green grass clippings
(minus any chemical fertilizers and herbicides), fish meal, bloodmeal, cottonseed
meal, trimmings from grocery store produce, and garden waste, such as weeds
What about putting URINE in the compost pile?
Gourmet compost: 3 parts leaves + 1 part grass clippings.
Materials you DON'T want to add to a compost pile include: meat scraps, oily products such as salad dressings, peanut butter and mayonnaise, pet litter and food, branches and other large woody materials, slick magazine pages, and waxed cardboard.
If you live near a coastal community, kelp and seaweed is a must-have ingredient. Here on Kodiak Island, kelp piles on the beaches in long windrows, and is available to anyone with a truck or garbage can. Pound per pound, kelp supplies more minerals than any other material on the planet. In the garden, it also aerates the soil and makes an excellent mulch around potato plants, fruit-bearing shrubs, bulbs and perennials. And, contrary to popular belief, seaweed does not add harmful salts to the garden.
Kelp is what I call a "neutral" ingredient, in that it doesn't fit in the nitrogen or the carbon category. Yet, it benefits every compost pile by adding fluff. So, if you live in North Dakota, either make a pilgrimage to the coast or invite your beach buddies to come visit with their suitcases packed with seaweed.
To learn more about compost ingredients and composting, check out the list of books, websites and other resources listed at the end of this article.
Step #2: Stir your compost ingredientsOnce you assemble your ingredients, you're ready to build your compost pile. Here are some basic guidelines:
Step #3: Let your compost cook
Turn the pile every 4 to 7 days to aerate it and to provide the microorganisms with fresh food. With tumblers, simply give it a spin occasionally. For bin enclosures, use a pitchfork to turn the pile, moving the inside materials to the outside, and the outside materials to the inside--just like folding cake batter. This is a good upper body workout.How do you know when the compost is done?
The compost pile is done cooking when it no longer warms up within a few days of turning it. Incidentally, the pile will shrink to about half of its original size.
With a little practice, you'll be able to read the symptoms and know what
to do to correct the problem. Here are some common problems and their solutions:
Problem: The compost pile doesn't
get very hot, even though it has enough materials.
Problem: The compost heap heats
up and cools down like it's supposed to, but a lot of the materials are
large and not broken down.
Problem: Whew, the compost pile
has a strong odor.
Problem: Animals on the loose!
How to use compost
Adding compost tea to raised beds, Juneau, Alaska.
For more information about compost, compost bins, and more:
Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!
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