by Christopher Teh Boon Sung, Fac. of Agriculture, Uni. Putra Malaysia, Serdang ([email protected])
One of the most important inputs in any garden is organic matter. Adding organic matter to soil will virtually improve all soil properties, making the soil more porous, more fertile, and more resistant to erosion. But in order to reap the benefits of organic matter, it must first decompose, and composting is one very effective way to accelerate this decomposition process. Composting also makes the nutrients in the organic matter more available to the plants.
Composting is easy and does not require any expensive and sophisticated equipment. Composting, however, requires patience and discipline. There are actually many ways to do composting, but here is one of the simplest yet effective method that anyone can do.
Start by picking an empty spot in your garden, preferably under a roof, for your compost heap. Composting requires a 3-to-1 mixture of browns and greens. Browns are so-called because they are materials rich in carbohydrate, and their purpose in the compost heap is to act a food source of the microbes inside your compost heap. Good brown materials to use are such as dried leaves, small twigs, sawdust, paper, corn stalks, coffee filters, corrugated cardboard.
Green materials, on the other hand, are rich in nitrogen or protein, and they help the microbes to grow and multiply quickly in the compost, aiding the composting process. Green materials also help to warm up your compost heap. Good green materials to use are such as fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, and vegetable and fruit scraps.
You should, however, avoid adding oil, milk, meat, diseased plant parts, and animal wastes into your compost heap.
Once you have collected all your materials (remember, for every bucket of green materials, you should have about 3 buckets of brown materials), you should use a hoe or spade to chop up the materials as much as you can. The smaller the pieces, the faster the composting process would complete.
Once chopped up, mix thoroughly the browns and greens. As you mix, use a garden hose to spray water into the heap. Add in the water in a gradual manner. It is very important you do not overwater. Pick up your compost materials with one hand, and they should feel damp, like a damp sponge. If you see water dripping out through your fingers, it means you have overwatered your compost heap. If that is the case, simply add in more browns and greens reduce the wetness.
Stack up your compost into a tall pile. This will help to build up heat in the heap and quicken the composting process.
The next step is crucial and often neglected: cover your compost heap! You do not want additional water (from rainfall, for instance) to seep into your compost heap. Once every few days, remove the covering, and mix thoroughly the compost heap. Again, gradually spray in water just to keep the compost damp (not wet). Do not forget to stack up the compost heap as high as you can.
A well-done compost heap can be ready in a few weeks. You can tell your compost heap is “cooking” well when it is warm to touch, does not produce any foul smell, or attract pests. Once completed, your compost should appear black and smell like rich, fertile soil.
It is also very important you avoid adding fresh batches of greens or browns into the heap. This will not only delay but may also interrupt the composting process.