3Table 2. Materials that should not be in acompost pile (Dickson et al., 1991)
BonesCat manurePeanut butterButterDog ma-nureSalad dressingCheeseFish scrapsSour creamChickenMayonnaiseVegetable oilLardMeatMilk
Table 3. Persistence of common herbicides in soil(Rosen et al., 1988)
CommonNameTrade NamesLongevity inSoil (Months)
BenenBalan, Baln4-8DCPADacthal4-8BensulideBetasan, Prefar6-12Glypho-sateRoundup, Klee-nupless than 12,4-D(many formula-tions)1-2
Table 4. Carbon to nitrogen ratios for selectedmaterials (Dickson et al., 1991)
MaterialC:N (by weight)Materials with high nitrogen values
Vegetable wastes12-20:1Coffee grounds20:1Grass clippings12-25:1Cow manure20:1Horse manure25:1Horse manure with litter30-60:1Poultry manure (fresh)10:1Poultry manure (with litter)13-18:1Pig manure5-7:1
Materials with high carbon values
Foliage (leaves)30-80:1Corn stalks60:1Straw40-100:1Bark100-130:1Paper150 - 200 :1Wood chips and sawdust100-500:1
that feed on the material prefer a car- bon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio of approxi-mately 30 to 1 (30:1), by weight. Eachmaterial has a different C:N ratio. For example, dried leaves (brown materi-als) have a high ratio (low in nitrogen),while grass clippings and green leafymaterial have a lower C:N ratio (highin nitrogen). Generally speaking, greenmaterials and manure have a highnitrogen content, and brown materialshave a low nitrogen content (Table 4).Building a home compost pile with theideal nitrogen level is challenging, butyou can usually obtain good results byalternating layers of green and brownmaterials. By carefully combiningmaterials in the pile, the average C:Nratio can be brought close to 30:1.In a balanced compost pile, enoughnitrogen is added by the green mate-rial for microbes to decompose brownmaterials, and excess nitrogen in thegreen materials is utilized by microbesand not lost to the atmosphere.
Essential to the rapid decomposi-tion of organic materials are micro-organisms, bacteria, fungi, insects andworms. The proper type and balanceof organic materials provides thesource of food and protein for mi-cro-organisms to live and reproduce.Bacteria and micro-organisms arealready present on dead plant mate-rial introduced to the compost pile.However, to boost the organic levelof the pile, add a shovel full of richsoil with earthworms. Many backyardcomposters also claim the most effec-tive composting is done with piles and bins that are in contact with the earth, providing greater access for micro-or-ganisms to enter the compost. “Earth-contact” composting can also enhancethe survival rate of organisms shouldthe pile essentials periodically change.
Volume of Materials
The volume size of the organicmaterial is critical. While a larger pileof material will break down faster thana smaller pile, larger piles are alsomore difcult to manage. To maintainoptimum moisture and temperaturelevels, create a pile size of 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep by 3 feet high (3' x 3'x 3') at a minimum. In locations withwidely varying daily temperatures, thevolume could be increased, but for easy turning it shouldnot exceed 4' x 4' x 4'.
1. The volume of ma-terials in the compost pileshould be equal on all sidesas the pile is built. Tapered,at and narrow piles will notheat up or maintain consis-tent moisture and heatlevels for effectivecomposting.2. In cold climates,insulate the pile sideswith hay/straw balesand the top with rigidinsulation panels tohelp create and holdheat in the pile.
Particle Size ofMaterials
If you shred thematerials, they willcompost faster. How-ever, coarser materi-als, although prone todrying, add porosityto the pile and help air come in contact withmaterials. Conversely,ne sized materialshold moisture, butcan get matted down.Small branches can beclipped into pieces twoto three inches long,mechanically shred-ded and cautiouslyreduced in size with alawn mower. Heavier branches, larger than aquarter inch in diam-eter should be chopped,shredded or avoided.
Aerobic compostingrequires introducingoxygen into the pile.This is referred to as“aeration.” Aeration is simply turningthe materials in the pile or bin with ashovel or fork.How often you should turn your pile to introduce oxygen is generally afunction of the odor of the pile and itstemperature. However, while turningthe pile to introduce oxygen is essen-tial, it is a timing balancing act. Turn-ing the pile too often will cool the piledown and slow decomposition of thematerial. On the other hand, not turn-ing enough will cause the pile to goanaerobic (composting without oxy-gen). Anaerobic composting producesfoul smelling gases.