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Improve your Raised Garden Bed Soil With Compost

Composting at home, school and work has become quite the trend as our world moves to a greener and more environmentally friendly outlook. In many places the available land for waste disposal is slowly being filled up. Some experts speculate that up to a half of all household waste is organic and can be recycled using one of many composting techniques. Composting, regardless of what you do with the compost, can conserve landfill space and reduce greenhouse gases by virtue of a faster and cleaner composting process. The most environmentally friendly method of composting in my opinion is vermicomposting, which utilizes earthworms to break organic material down into worm manure which can then be used as a nutrient rich organic fertilizer.

compost heap
compost heap

Wide Usage

Compost is very rich in nutrients and can be used in gardens, landscaping, horticulture and agriculture. Using compost adds vital humus to the soil of your garden bed, providing the nutrients that your vegetables need to grow and also acting as a natural pesticide.

There are many different methods for making compost however they all work on the same basic principles and their results are largely much the same. Proponents of a particular method may claim that their approach to composting may be faster or produce a better quality compost, I feel that most methods are quite satisfactory and few have any advantage over others. Most methods agree with good science in that there needs to be a certain amount of well aerated organic composting material present for the compost pile to heat up sufficiently and compost quickly. This is often referred to as a critical mass and in the case of your compost pile it is an area approximately one cubic metre (1m X 1m X 1m).

Keep this critical mass in mind when you select a ready made compost bin from your garden supply shop or you start drawing plans to make a compost bin. If your compost bin is not in the area of a cubic meter is doesn’t mean that your organic material wont compost at all, it will simply break down out a slower rate. You don’t even really need a bin for composting, you may prefer to make a big pile of organic material however bins, bays or containers really do make the process more even and much neater. A good compost bin size is 1.5m x 1.5m and about 1m high. Ideally, three bins this size would provide a great deal of compost for ongoing use, one bay to fill up with day to day organic waste and two other bays that have been filled and are composting.

Make From Organic Materials

The compost itself is made by stacking organic materials such as garden waste, vegetable peelings, fruit peelings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, finely shredded paper (not glossy!), lawn clippings and the like. I personally favor alternating layers rather than a simple pile. First a thin layer of soil perhaps 2-4cm thick, then 15cm of organic material, then a 2cm layer of manure (cow, chicken or horse), a dusting of lime and then another 2cm layer of soil. The compost pile should be kept moist but not waterlogged and if it is composting well it will be hot, particularly in the center.

Some debate exists over whether or not a compost pile should be turned to facilitate aeration. I tend to assess each pile as an individual, if the composting process slows and the pile has adequate moisture turning the pile over with a fork can get the pile cooking again. Some gardeners feel that turning the compost pile once a week is mandatory for a good quick compost as air is an absolute necessity to the process.

When your compost is completely broken down it will have a rich sweet smell with a look and feel much like dirt. Completely broken down compost can be dug into a garden bed that is ready for planting. Partially broken down compost can be dug into a garden bed or used as a mulch only if the bed is to lie fallow for a few weeks before being planted.

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