Mistakes to avoid in making compost

Christine Wanjiku prepares compost for her button mushrooms at her farm in Kenol, Muranga County where she grows and markets, mushrooms for sale. [Lydiah Nyawira, Standard] 

Compost-making shouldn’t be complicated. Once you learn the basics, you’ll find that it’s an easy way to cut down on food and household waste while creating nutrient-dense compost for your garden. Even if you do not have a garden, having a compost pile is still a great idea. It can be utilized as mulch for landscaping, flower beds, or around trees at home. But there are some common composting mistakes you don’t want to make.

Choice of composting method

Most farmers have no idea that there are different composting methods. Cold composting is the most common; this is when you add all of your organic materials into a pile, turn, and add water regularly. The core temperature increases, but it takes up to one year to have completed compost. Some farmers compost animal manure, while others prefer vermicomposting, which is when you use worms to create compost. Take time before you get started to pick the method that makes the most sense for you.

Poor site selection

Another common composting mistake is picking the wrong spot for the compost pile. Most people want to hide the compost away, so it might end up in a shady corner or hidden behind your shed. Before picking a spot for your compost, you need to consider the environment and climate in that area. You need to pick a site that has the right temperatures for compost and proper water levels. It should be easy to reach you so that you can bring out kitchen scraps. An ideal location for your compost pile should receive some sunlight to help maintain the core temperature. It should also be sheltered from the rain to prevent excess moisture inside the pile.

Adding wrong materials

Know what you can put in your compost and what you can’t. Most things decompose when added to a compost pile, but you should never put some things into compost that you will place over your veggie garden. Avoid meat, dairy, and oil products. These materials make your pile rancid and encourage odors, attracting mice, rats, raccoons, and other pests. Another example is that you should never add cat or dog manure because they contain harmful pathogens that might spread in the soil of your garden. Adding larger, woody pieces will take too long to break down. Things like avocado pits, natural fibers, and fabrics might be organic materials, but they take a long time to break down completely. If you want to add these to your compost pile, they need to be chopped up into tiny pieces.

Adding too much nitrogen or carbon

Compost needs nitrogen and carbon, but if you add too many nitrogen-rich items all at one time, makes your compost anaerobic fast. Nitrogen-rich items are things like fruit and veggie scraps, grass clippings, and green leaves. Remember, when you add nitrogen-rich materials you also need to add plenty of carbon-rich materials. If you add too many brown materials to the pile, it will dramatically slow the decomposition process. Everything will grind to a halt because you need nitrogen to speed up the process. With too many brown materials, your pile won’t have the same nutritional composition to create finished compost.

Failure to turn the compost pile

The other mistake is failure to turn, or aerate, your compost pile. Compost needs oxygen to generate heat, and without enough heat, the decomposition process slows to a halt. The microbes and bacteria need heat to decompose the organic materials inside the compost. Whenever you flip or turn over your compost, it brings oxygen into the core of the pile, allowing the decomposition process to continue. The more frequently you aerate your compost, the more quickly everything decomposes.

Keeping your compost too dry or too wet

Compost needs moisture to work just like it needs moisture. Proper moisture keeps the decomposition process moving along, so if you stop adding water to your pile, it’s going to cause the compost pile to fail. We have to remember that we rely on organisms to create compost, and they need water to live. If you aren’t sure if your compost is too dry, scope out a handful of compost and squeeze it. It should feel like a wrung-out sponge. If it doesn’t feel moist, then it’s time to add more water. Conversely, adding too much water to your compost is a problem. It suffocates the oxygen in a pile. When you grab a handful of compost and squeeze, you shouldn’t see water come out of your hand. 

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