Would you like to have “Black Gold” for your garden? Black Gold is basically just free dirt that is full of minerals and of a perfect texture for your plants. It is also known as compost. Compost is easy to make, inexpensive, and odorless despite its ingredients.
How Does Compost Work?
Composting works by little microorganisms eating away at plant or food material until it breaks down into a soil-like substance. I’m sure you have noticed the dark black soil that you have seen under a deep pile of leaves in the forest. That is compost.
What Materials Are Needed to Make Compost?
All plant matter will eventually become compost, but since you don’t want to wait a decade, you need any combination of the following, preferably a balance of “brown” and “green”:
Brown Material (provides carbon): newspaper (black and white pages only), brown leaves, pine straw/needles, other brown plant material
Green Material (provides nitrogen): green leaf clippings, grass clippings, and other green plant material
Other Material (provides various nutrients): banana peels, fruit/veggie peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, other garbage, hair clippings, manure from chickens, cows, horses
Do not include: Meat products, dairy products, urine/feces from humans or your dog and cat, or weed seeds
Keep in mind that you will not have compost until the microorganisms have broken the plant and food matter into tiny bits. To help speed the composting process, break all matter into small pieces if possible.
Where Should I Put the Compost Pile?
You can make your compost area as complicated or as simple as you prefer. Online you may find many products to buy, ranging from drums to fancy containers for your compost. We have always gone with the free and easy method. We have had a loose compost pile, a compost pile surrounded on three sides by recycled wooden pallets, and presently we use the chicken coop as our compost pile. We just toss all compost matter into the
coop, even if we know chickens won’t eat it (such as pine straw). They are wonderful compost turners and give us rich Black Gold much quicker than if we do it ourselves.
If you do choose to enclose your compost area, remember that the two necessary ingredients to compost are air and water, so leave your pile open at the top and with slits on the sides. No compost pile should be more than 4′ high by 4′ wide, for turning purposes.
How Do I Make Compost?
Begin your pile by spreading out a layer of green material, then brown material. Next, add some dirt to get soil microorganisms near your pile (they will find it anyway, but this speeds up the process). Keep repeating the layers. The more balanced your pile is between
brown and green, the less likely that it will smell. If it does smell, make sure you have not added anything from the “Do NOT include” list above, and make sure you are keeping the pile balanced between brown and green materials.
Each time you add a layer to your compost pile, sprinkle water on the pile unless it is forecasted to rain. Your pile should be always moist like a sponge; neither very wet nor dry. Sunlight and/or heat will cause the composting process to move along more quickly.
You need to turn, or stir, the compost pile since the microorganisms work from the inside to the outside. The more often you stir the pile (I use a pitchfork or let our chickens do the
stirring), the more quickly your pile will be ready.
How Long Until I Have Finished Compost?
When it is summer in Florida, in the full sun, and if I am keeping the pile moist and turning it daily, I have compost ready in only about two weeks. Most often, a compost pile is ready in 2-3 months. Some gardeners start a pile in the fall and allow it to sit, unstirred, all winter. It is usually ready by spring.
There are a couple of things you can do to speed up the process: keep the pile moist at all times, keep the pile in a warm location (sunny), and turn the pile frequently.
Your finished compost will look like the prettiest black dirt you’ve ever seen, and your plants will love it!