Basics Of Composting

By practicing basic composting, you can save a lot of money, make good use of kitchen waste material, make your soil healthier and benefit the environment …

Basic Composting 101

Learning basic composting will save you dollars off your fertilising budget. In fact, you can spend ZERO DOLLARS to make your kitchen garden produce healthier and more plentiful! You will even make good use of kitchen waste material, make your soil healthier than ever before, and do a great service to the environment by practicing basic composting.

Composting – Environmental Impact

Our environment choices have grown so limited that more and more states have been legislating measures to reduce waste that ends up in public landfills. Did you know that the kitchen and yard waste of American households makes up 30% of the nation’s total waste? If we practice basic composting we could cut close to a third of the volume that ends up in our shrinking landfills.

In short, we should compost because pretty soon, we will have no choice.

Composting – Practicality

It just doesn’t make sense to spend on fertiliser when you regularly throw away material that you can use as a better substitute! Using compost is one of the best things you can do for your soil to improve its texture, composition, aeration (especially for clayey soil), and water-bearing qualities (particularly for sandy soil).

Even basic composting can improve fertility and plant health many times over. Your garden’s health depends on its soil’s microorganisms, which composting feeds in a natural way. Composting can help you completely do away with commercial plant fertilisers.

Composting – How To Start

You can dig a hole in the ground, build a square mesh-enclosure with stakes, or use a barrel or garbage can pile up compost.

Start with plant waste, twigs, and dried, dead weeds. You can use vegetable and fruit scraps from your kitchen, but alternate dry and wet material and soil, lightly tamping down three-inch layers each time. Speed up decomposition by using farm manure; but never use cat or dog manure.

A good rule of thumb would be:

3 parts brown to 1 part green ingredients. Then, you need to water each layer – lightly if in wet weather, thoroughly if in dry. Turn the pile every couple of weeks.

Do not put processed food scraps in your compost pile; neither should you use any meat, fat, or dairy products (apart from crushed eggshells). Bread is fine, unless it has peanut butter or mayonnaise.

After a couple of months, you can start using your compost – sooner if you can no longer distinguish the ingredients in the dark substance.

Basic composting will reap you such immediate, cost-efficient benefits that you’ll wonder why you’ve never tried it before!

How to improve your soil

Growing Media

One of a plant’s requirements is for support which is usually provided by its roots anchored in the soil. Soil is not used in hydroponic systems but there are other types of mediums which are suitable. Sand, gravel, scoria, pumice, Vermiculite, Coir, Expanded clay etc, or a mixture of these mediums can be used.

Virtually any inert material can be used provided that the material is clean, will not add any extra chemical constituents to the nutrient mix, and that it will provide good drainage. Always wash the medium well before use, and if you are in any doubt, use a weak solution of household bleach to sterilize the medium. Coarse, washed, river sand is a good medium when used with a drainage base of gravel. Gravel alone is also suitable. The best sizes to use are between 3mm and 10mm.

Gravel lasts well which is why it is used by many commercial installations. It is also easy to remove plants from gravel without leaving quantities of root material broken off in the medium where they will rot. Scoria can cause problems because small roots will grow into the scoria so it is better used for growing indoor plants which will not need frequent repotting.

Pumice, like Scoria, is a very porous medium but you will have to make sure that the pumice is free from chemical contamination. It often contains sulphur.

Vermiculite is a lightweight and very porous medium, ideal for starting off seeds and exceptional for raising cuttings in.
Vermiculite is quite expensive when compared with other products so it pays to reduce the amount you need by mixing it with other substances. Perlite is another medium which retains moisture well.

I would recommend that you try gravel as your medium with a layer of perlite or vermiculite worked into the top 40cm.

You can easily combine any of the mediums mentioned, to a degree it depends on what you have available locally. Remember your medium should provide a place where the plant’s roots can support the plant while still allowing air and the nutrient mixture through without adding any extra substances.

Worms are valuable in the garden because while dragging decaying organic matter underground they form small tunnels which allow more oxygen into the soil. That is why plants will grow well in a light, well cultivated soil. A key job is to ensure you can handle the worms

Don’t over water your plants

Plants will often die if the soil is over watered, making it heavy and cutting off the oxygen supply to the plant’s roots. All hydroponic systems therefore, have to include some way of introducing oxygen to the plant’s root structure. Keep this in mind, it is very important.

A number of different methods for bringing oxygen into hydroponic systems are described later in the post. One simple way is to use a small air pump of the type used in goldfish tanks.

The air pump is plugged into a normal power point and the plastic hose running from the pump is placed into your solution of water and nutrient elements. Air is bubbled into your nutrient mixture for the benefit of the plant’s roots in the same way as it is bubbled into an aquarium for the benefit of the goldfish.