Composting Mistakes. Composting is a wonderful way to recycle plant waste and amend the soil in any sized garden. One of the most fascinating things about compost piles is that they are essentially living systems that require proper maintenance. For a better composting experience, here are five of the biggest composting mistakes to avoid.
Five Composting Mistakes that Every Beginning Gardener Makes
The easiest mistake to make in a new composting system is not giving the pile enough air. One of the most mystifying and exciting aspects of composting is when the pile is giving off heat. The heat is actually a byproduct of bacterial respiration. This is stimulated by air and is a good sign that a compost system is thriving.
In the living system of any compost pile, fungi, insects, and bacteria, among other critters that hang out in the pile, are actively breaking down all of the components into smaller parts. The most important player is aerobic bacteria and is a type of bacteria that thrives when surrounded by Carbon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen. The aerobic bacteria will break down Carbon and Nitrogen. It then processes that release heat, and consume Oxygen to respire.
The Secret to a good compost pile
The secret to a good compost pile is good aeration because, with adequate oxygen, these hard-working aerobic bacteria can do their jobs very well. It will produce fine rich compost. The heat that is given off is also important in a composting system, as it kills any bad microbes or weed seeds that may be lingering in the pile.
Just Add Water
Water is an essential ingredient to any compost pile and is so easy to forget. The bacteria in the composting system, that are working hard to break everything down, require a minimum about of moisture in order to stay alive.
Too much water in a compost system prevents air from penetrating into the pile, which restricts respiration of the bacteria. Watering does not need to take place daily, but maintaining the consistency of a freshly squeezed sponge is about the moisture level for success.
If most of the ingredients in the pile are grass clippings and soggy fruit, then it is important to take that into consideration when measuring how much water to add. The wet ingredients add water to the system, so additional watering may cause the pile to go anaerobic, and bring the process to a halt. Coverage is Key.
Covering Compost Pile
Keeping a compost pile covered is important to maintain proper moisture, and to keep out pests. Leaving a compost pile open to the elements is probably one of the easiest mistakes to make, and fix, for beginning gardeners.
Overwatering a compost pile leads to soggy, anaerobic conditions, which promote smelly, stagnant bacterial growth. Keeping the pile covered not only protects the heap from too much water due to rainfall events but also keeps internal moisture from escaping while maintaining proper heat levels inside. Coverage doesn’t necessarily need to take the form of a tarp, but may also be accomplished with a roof or an extra thick layer of wood chips that are removed and reapplied during aeration.
Covering the compost pile also protects against unwanted animals finding their way into the project. Chickens especially will tear down the pile, looking for snacks, leaving a big mess to clean up in the garden.
Remove Animal Products
Meat and dairy products are not ideal for garden composting systems because there is not enough heat to properly break down meat products and kill microbes. Piles of rotting meat and dairy will stink and attract rodents, which is not ideal in a garden setting.
Professionally run commercial composting programs have access to machinery that can properly turn giant piles of compost, which in turn can generate a lot of heat. Bones will not decompose in a small garden system, and will only cause problems down the line.
Eggshells are acceptable to mix in, and a good source of calcium for plants, but keep in mind that the outer shells will linger in the pile for what feels like the rest of eternity. If part of adding compost to a garden system is to maintain the aesthetic of a natural soil amendment, be aware that compost freckled with bits of eggshells tends to evoke thoughts of kitchen waste.
Bad Layers of Compost
One of the trickiest things to master in composing is the layering system. Many beginners will make the mistake of just piling a big mound of one material and leaving it in a heap.
Lumping a big pile of one material doesn’t actually qualify a heap as a compost pile, as it is actually all about the layers. Like one big garden lasagna, a compost pile requires layers of diverse contents in order to yield the proper results. Differentiate sources of Carbon and Nitrogen, and layer with a 2:1 ratio (C:N).
The grass is commonly thrown in big clumps onto compost piles, leaving soggy, anaerobic pockets that are not conducive to the compost system. Maintaining a reliable source of Carbon such as dried leaves or wood chips is a great way to fill in layers between soggier kitchen waste and thin sheets of grass clippings.