Editor’s note: Last week I accidently cut Nancy’s column short by one page. Here it is in its wonderful entirety. My apologies.
To continue our compost discussion and answer some of your questions, I want you to know there are many different methods to make compost and lots of opportunities to use your imagination. Know that just about anything you do will work, sooner or later.
As you begin your composting journey, your will want to refine your techniques to fit your own garden. You will learn what to do when your pile gets too soggy - add dry materials. What if odors appear - not enough air or too much water - needs turning. Pile too dry - add water, add green material, turn pile. If a pile attracts flies or animals - cover added kitchen waste with leaves, or torn-up newspaper, and remove non-recommended materials (meat scraps, fish, dairy, pet waste). What is the whitish, powdery material? This is normal and means the decomposition process is working and the microorganisms are at work--a good thing!
A reminder that by cutting your composting materials (tree branches limbs, fruit rinds) into smaller pieces, more areas will be exposed so microorganisms can do their job of breaking down raw materials more quickly. Frequent turning means the difference between weeks and months to finished compost. And yes, it is okay to add small amounts of wood ashes and non-treated wood sawdust to your compost pile.
There are many ways to contain your compost. Here are a few ideas: cement blocks stacked 3 or 4 feet high with the fourth side open, logs stacked like a log cabin, 3 bin composter, pallet or barrel composter, trench or sheet composting, worm composter, used railroad ties, snow fencing. And of course there are many commercial composters now available, such a Earth Machine, Envirocycle composter, and tumblers. Perhaps one or more will work for you.
When you place your composter directly on soil you will note that garden worms may come to give your composter a helping hand. If you are using a passive method and not turning your pile often, the worms will help aerate and speed up the process. An interesting happening! Sometimes I add a shovelful of worms from my worm composter to help things along.
Another question asked is “Do we need to add an activator to our composter?” No, not necessary. Using a shovelful of finished compost or garden soil will add enough bacteria and microorganisms to help your new compost begin its decomposition process.
Are special tools necessary for composting? Yes, to a compost pitchfork with 5 tines and a lightweight handle. I use this fellow a lot for turning and other garden chores. I do have a small chipper-shredder and use it for larger branches and bush trimmings but I seldom use it. A compost thermometer would be useful, but not necessary, to test how hot the center of an active pile becomes. A composter aerator might be handy but not necessary. One could use a PVC pipe with air holes drilled along its length and placed in the center of the pile to let in air instead of turning. A machete