Translated by Nick R
Whether you’re looking for ways to fertilize your plants with 100% organic implements, you’ve heard about composting and want to learn about it, or feel like giving it a try at home, this blog is for you!
This time we’ll talk about what composting is and why it’s beneficial for your plants, the environment, and your wallet. Likewise, we’ll tell you which materials to use and which ones you should avoid at all costs. Finally, we’ll show you the process along with everything you need to know to succeed when composting.
Table of Contents
What is composting?
Composting is a process of transformation and decomposition of organic materials in order to obtain a natural fertilizer full of nutrients. Therefore, it’s a method that helps to improve the quality of the soil and manage organic waste, preventing it from reaching landfills.
The current food and yard waste represents more than 30% of what we throw in the garbage and could be composted instead. Furthermore, composting keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and where mixed with other waste release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Composts require 4 main and equally necessary components to function:
Optimal composting requires a balance of brown waste, which provides carbon, and green waste, which contains nitrogen. The element (C) provides energy and heat, while the element (N) allows more organisms to grow and reproduce to oxidize the carbon.
When the material is decomposing, it goes through different temperatures due to the metabolic activity of the microorganisms. Here, too, the water-air balance is essential to maintain the high temperatures up to 70°C.
Humidity is essential for microorganisms to transport their nutrients. Also, if you have excess moisture, the compost will be anaerobic, which means it will lack oxygen, and the organic matter will rot. On the other hand, if it has little moisture, the process will be slower.
It’s also necessary for the compost to receive oxygen so that the microorganisms can breathe and evacuate carbon dioxide.
As you can see, with the correct mix of water, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, microorganisms can break down organic matter to produce compost. That’s why inactive there are bacteria, fungi, and protozoa that help us in the process.
Benefits of compost
- Better waste management: Since compost is made from waste, such as food scraps, it reduces the amount of waste going to landfills. Also, you’ll be separating at the source, which allows other non-organic materials to be utilized. In this way, you’ll be doing your bit for the environment.
- Combat climate change: As we said, the piles of garbage in landfills are reduced, thus reducing greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere and damage the climate balance. This is because, in landfills, waste is compacted so that it doesn’t receive oxygen, so it rots and produces methane and carbon dioxide.
- Plants love it: Compost helps them absorb nutrients found in the soil and provides additional food. It also makes plants stronger against disease and, because they are nourished, improves their taste.
- Improves soil structure: On the one hand, it increases water holding capacity, thus reducing the need for constant irrigation. Also, it controls soil erosion, thus preventing soil layers from being displaced or destroyed by strong winds or rains. Finally, it’s ideal for improving dry land with nutrient deficiencies or for remediating contaminated soils.
- It saves money: That’s right! Making your own compost reduces the need to buy fertilizers or other manures for your plants. Likewise, it doesn’t require a large monetary investment, you could even say there isn’t even one, although it depends on how you want to manage your compost.
- You’ll connect with nature: When you practice composting you become much more aware of the waste generated in your home. You’ll also be part of the amazing process by which “garbage” becomes “soil”.
What do you need to make your own homemade compost?
Compost is different every time depending on the materials you want to decompose, and in general, there’s no single perfect list of ingredients to make it. However, it’s fundamental that you know which components can be used and what other should not be used at all.
Elements that can be used
Green or wet waste: These are products that have a good source of nitrogen and therefore have a high moisture content and decompose quickly.
- Fruit and vegetable scraps, including their pits or stones.
- Raw eggshells. That is, if you cooked eggs, their shells will no longer be useful.
- Coffee grounds and filters.
- Grass or fresh green waste after pruning.
- Poultry manure.
Brown or dry waste: these are items with high carbon content. Among them are:
- Fallen and dry leaves.
- Branches and trunks.
- Wood ashes only.
- Egg carton.
- Toilet paper rolls.
Elements to avoid
When some elements decompose release substances that later may be harmful to plants. Similarly, some of them only generate a bad odor and attract insects, while others have components that harm the microorganisms needed for composting.
Therefore, keep in mind this list of items that you should not include in your compost:
- Dairy products and eggs.
- Meat scraps and bones, including fish and fish bones.
- Charcoal ash.
- Remains of diseased or pest-ridden plants.
- Household pet waste.
- Plants treated with chemical pesticides.
- Oils or shortenings.
- Glass, metals or plastics.
Ways of composting
It consists of placing the materials in heaps or piles directly on the ground. It’s a helpful method if you have a large piece of land to make your compost, but keep in mind that it must be a covered spot so that it doesn’t receive rain or direct sunlight.
In markets, you can get compost bins, which are containers with certain characteristics that facilitate the process. For example, they have holes to improve aeration and protect the compost from rain or sun. They also come in different sizes, so you can have them in your garden or inside your home.
So, don’t worry if you live in an apartment or a house without a yard and think you don’t have enough space to compost. You’ll see in a composter your best ally during the process; otherwise, you can go for a more economical option such as buckets, which we’ll tell you about next.
It fulfills the same function as the composter, but this way, you can save some money and reuse the buckets you have at home. Of course, you will need to make holes on the sides so that oxygen can enter, and although it’s good that they have a lid, you can also use a cloth or fabric to cover the compost.
You can also use large pots or planters. Or, you can even build your own compost bin with planks as if it were a raised bed, typical of home gardens.
But, if you use containers with drainage holes, place a plate to collect the leachate and use it to water your compost. The leachate is the liquid released by the compost as it decomposes, and therefore, it’s actually an organic fertilizer.
You should dilute this liquid in some water to avoid problems with the plants as it is a very concentrated liquid in mineral salts and nutrients and could burn the plants. The ideal measure is 1:4, that is to say, if you have one cup of leached liquid, you’ll dilute it with 4 cups of water.
You can also add this liquid to the watering can. This way, it’ll be diluted with water, and you’ll be able to use it without any problems. Do not forget to store the leachate hermetically in a dry, cool, and dark space; in this way, anaerobic fermentation is achieved (it develops without oxygen).
This type of storage favors microorganisms since they will have the capacity to produce secondary metabolites. These metabolites are responsible for providing plants with the help they need to obtain essential nutrients, such as nitrogen. Now, if you cannot collect this liquid and have limited space to place your compost bin, try to place it in an area where you can easily clean it.
Apart from including earthworms to help break down the compost, worm composting is often done or employed. It actually consists of stacking 3 trays, buckets, or pots on top of one another.
In this way, the lower container will collect the leachate; the middle one, all the wet and dry organic matter along with the worms; and finally, in the upper container, you can place more components as the others decompose. When the worms have finished their work in the second layer, they will move up to this container.
To allow the worms and leachate to circulate the 2 upper bins should have holes in the bottom and sides; necessary to allow the airflow.
How to make your own homemade compost?
Now that you have separated the waste you’re going to use and have chosen the container or the way to carry out the process, we’ll show you what are the steps to follow.
- Start with a layer of dry material, especially if you have cardboard it’s good to place it first so it can absorb humidity. You can also start with branches, woody parts, or straw.
- Add a layer of green waste. First, use a pair of scissors or a knife to cut all the elements into smaller pieces, which will speed up the process. We suggest that the wet waste layers should be twice as thick as the brown waste layers, but this won’t be difficult as more organic matter is discarded in the home.
- Place a layer of garden soil (optional). This will be good if you have soil that is infertile and poor in nutrients, this way you’ll revitalize it.
- Repeat the process. Again, put a layer of dry material followed by one of wet material; if you are using soil, include it as well. Keep doing this until you have filled the container or have no residues left.
- Cover the container. You can use a lid, a cloth, or even a piece of cardboard. It will help you to maintain the humidity and temperature. However, always keep it covered, but not sealed.
- Turn or stir the compost. Using a shovel, if your compost is on the ground, or a stick if you have it in a bucket, try to mix the compost at least once a week. That will also help you to watch the process and make sure everything is going well.
- Water your compost if it’s dry. Remember that moisture is good, but it should not get waterlogged. On the other hand, if your compost is too wet, add more dry material or let it have some sun.
How to know when the compost is ready?
The decomposition process can take about 3 months, or more or less, depending on the amount of compost you’re making and its conditions. For example, if you don’t grind your ingredients thoroughly, it may take longer. If you use worm castings, it’ll take less time.
However, you’ll know your compost is ready or close when it has a forest-like smell or just a fresh earthy odor. Also, visually, it’ll look like very dark soil, and some people even compare it to coffee grounds.
Ideally, it shouldn’t have any sticks or bones from fruit that have taken a long time to decompose. For this, just remove those pieces and put them in another compost.
How to use the compost?
You can use it in 2 ways depending on how fresh or ripe it is. Therefore:
Fresh compost is the one that has been decomposing for 2 to 3 months and is perfect as mulch. Thus, its main purpose will be to protect the soil from frost, maintain constant moisture, and control weed growth. So, to use it in this way, you only have to distribute a layer of approximately 5 centimeters over the soil, avoiding direct contact with the stems.
Now, mature compost is that one that has decomposed for 4 to 6 months and already has its characteristic earthy color and smell and, therefore, can be used as substrate. This is because it will be an excellent fertilizer to provide nutrients and improve the soil structure. So, you can use it to sow your plants either in pots or directly in your garden.
If, in your compost, you achieve the right balance between green and brown elements and the proper moisture, there is no reason for bad odors. Moreover, composting doesn’t cause flies either, they are caused by the unpleasant aroma that organic matter releases when it is not decomposing in the right conditions.
On the other hand, it’s also good to water the compost with the leachate it produces. Likewise, it’s a powerful fertilizer for your plants which you should dilute in water before applying it. It can be in a 50-50 ratio.
Also, as you could see, composting is not a complex process as anyone can do it from any place, no matter how big or small it is. However, it’s necessary to know the basics to succeed.
So, go for it! You won’t lose anything by trying. You may even get a pleasant surprise and, at the same time, you can do your bit for the environment.