Compost Happens

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Learn to compost by making compost. The first step is to start.

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You don’t really need to know much about the science of decomposition to turn out great compost at home. Getting a feel for it, however, is essential, and that takes time. No one’s compost is exactly like anyone else’s. Given all the variables — pile size and content, particle size, turning frequency, moisture, rainfall, humidity, temperature and so on — it may seem a wonder that people can compost reliably at all.

Yet they do.

Getting the proportions right in a compost heap, especially if you’re trying for a hot pile, can take a fair amount of experience. All of the layering recipes are approximate and they don’t necessarily agree with each other. Still, following one of those recipes is certainly one of the best ways to begin. After that, it’s a matter of remembering how things went (a gardener’s notebook can help with this) and making adjustments until something works.

Other aspects of composting are similarly hard to pin down. Precisely what’s the best size for a pile? Well, somewhere between 3′ x 3′ x 3′ and 5′ x 5′ x 5′. But that’s a considerable range, and only you will be able to learn what works best for you.

How many piles should you keep going? What’s the best way to store materials before “building” a pile? Do you want the work of maintaining a hot pile or the ease of the cool pile? How likely is it that your piles will go anaerobic if they’re not turned?

Booksarticles and forums can help you with some of these questions. But in the end, you’ll have to dive in and get your hands dirty.

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