Composting: The Basics
What is compost?
Compost is produced when organic matter slowly decomposes in aerobic conditions. It is the dark, spongy, earthy-smelling component of soil often referred to as “humus”. Compost adds nutrients and water-retention capacity to your soil while improving soil structure and moderating pH. It acts as a “slow-release” fertiliser, generally lower in the “N-P-K” nutrients, but adding more trace minerals and micro-nutrients. The main advantage is that nutrients are available to the plant as they are needed, rather than synthetic fertilisers which sit in the soil in excess and can be washed away by rainwater. Beneficial microbes and fungi present in compost both aid in making nutrients available to plants and have been found to help prevent some fungal and soil-borne diseases.
How do I do it?
Successful composting comes down to one basic thing: creating an ideal environment for the decomposers that will be breaking down the organic waste for you. They simply need water, adequate air flow, organic matter, and time. A compost pile with too much air flow lacks the required amount of water for the bacteria to operate. Too much water/too little aeration leads to less-efficient anaerobic bacteria taking over, which produce smelly by-products such as ammonia. Besides air and water, the decomposers require an even balance of carbon (“browns”, such as bark, sticks, dried leaves, and newspaper ) and nitrogen (“greens”, like grass clippings and vegetable scraps). Do not add animal by-products to your pile. To create a compost pile, set aside a space in the garden or build/purchase a bin that will allow air to flow through. Lay down a layer of wood chips or similar material to allow for drainage. Mix green and brown material evenly throughout the pile, add some garden soil and/or worms (to introduce microbes) and water the pile. You’re done! Just turn the pile once per week or so.
Is my compost done yet?
In Calgary during the winter months the chinook/freezing cycles will help break down the material in the pile but the low temperatures push the the microbes into dormancy. Your pile will likely take at least a year to produce usable compost. Your compost is finished when it smells sweet and earthy and looks like soil.
Source: Easy Compost