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Updated: May 17, 2021

Over the years of building compost piles I have found the secret recipe that has helped me build a compost pile with ease and give my garden that extra boost that it needs.

Before I get into my compost tips and my secret to the perfect compost, if you are thinking about growing a garden and not sure where to begin or you want to triple your gardens production, you can sign up for my free Garden Plan online course below.

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After many years of building and turning compost piles. Yes, I have big gardener muscles! My garden and homestead have always been my chosen workout plan!

I have learned that compost can be seen as being complicated or simple. It all depends on your point of view!

What is Compost?

Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed in a process called composting. This process recycles various organic materials otherwise regarded as waste products and produces a soil conditioner.

Compost is rich in nutrients. It is used, for example, in gardens, landscaping, horticultural, urban agriculture and organic farming. The compost itself is beneficial for the land in many ways including as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, and natural pesticides for soil. In ecosystems, compost is useful for rodent control, land and stream reclamation, wetland construction, and as landfill cover.

Simply, the process of composting requires making a heap of wet organic matter or green waste, such as leaves, grass, and food scraps, and waiting for the material to break down after a period of months.

If you want to get complicated, compost is the combination of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water that is broken down by microorganisms. The composting process is dependent on microorganisms to break down the organic matter. There are many microorganisms found in an active compost pile. Such as, mesophilic bacteria, thermophilic bacteria, actinobacteria, fungi, protozoa, and rotifers. These all work in a process of phases. The first phase, which is the initial phase in which the decomposition, is carried out under moderate temperatures. Then, the thermophilic phase; as the temperature rises the second thermophilic phase starts in which the decomposition is carried out by various thermophilic bacteria under high temperatures. Lastly, the maturation phase, as the supply of high-energy compounds dwindle the temperature starts to decrease. This is when your compost pile cools and slows decomposition.

Whew, God has made this process of composting amazing! But remember just because it's complex doesn't mean it needs to be hard to learn how to do. Let's make this simple.

When it comes to a compost pile I think the most important thing for you to consider first before you get into all the complicated ratios and things. Is your location!

Where do I put My Compost Pile?

When I first made my compost pile. The biggest asset I saw in location was under a tree so that I can control the water intake. So I found the closest tree to my garden. Did I look at how easy it was going to be to take materials to my compost pile? No!

Did I look at how hard it was going to be to remove and use that compost from my compost pile and place in my garden? No!

Or did I even look at how this place was out of my sight of vision and I would forget for a few weeks to not turn my compost pile? No!

I struggled for years with that compost pile, not because what I was doing to build it was wrong. But, because that compost pile was in the wrong location! Now with the vision of permaculture, I see that location is more important than being under a tree.

Permaculture teaches you that things should be placed in zones. With the first Zone being things that need your most care. Zone two being the second thing that needs your care and Zone 3 being less care. So, as you move away from your home, you place the things that need the least amount of care and attention furthest from your center, aka your home. A compost pile, because it needs weekly attention if you want the rapid composting, needs to be in zone 2 or Zone 3. This idea has made me move my compost pile which I'll show you is not just one pile but actually four piles to a location that is easier to get materials to, easier to take said materials from the compost pile to my garden, and I see it every day when I walk outside of my house. I can see its needs. So, before you start thinking about all the complexity of what goes into a compost pile think about location, location, location!

How big of an Area am I Going to Need?

The next thing you need to remember in compost building is size. A pile needs a certain size or amount of organic matter to be able to do the composting process. The minimum size you should do is a 4’ by 4’ by 4’ Cube. Yes, a 4 by 4 by 4 Cube of organic matter. If you want to produce quickly you're going to need at least two bins of this size. I prefer to use a four bin system. I can then be building a compost pile while still having the space for weekly turning. I turn by repiling the organic waste from one bin to the next bin and usually after four turns, I have finished compost! Now that you know the size of a compost pile you will need to build, you can estimate the amount of organic matter you are going to need.

What does a Compost Pile Need?

It needs five basic things. To find these basic things you need to remember that a compost pile is a living thing. The living things that you're feeding and taking care of are the microorganisms. These microorganisms are going to need air, water, and food.

Food, what is the food these organisms are going to need? Think about the things you and I need. We need fruits, vegetables and we need carbs. They need the same thing just in different forms. They also need a balanced diet of about 30:1, 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

Carbon in a compost pile gives the microorganisms energy. Carbon with oxygen produces the heat. Carbon materials are your brown and dry materials, like, hay, leaves, straw, newspapers, and cardboard.

Nitrogen is what they use to grow, reproduce and to oxidize the carbon. High nitrogen materials tend to be green such as your fruits and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, weeds from your garden, and manure.

Air, oxygen, is used for the oxidizing of the carbon or the decomposition process. As a compost pile goes through its phases it actually is burning that oxygen up and when it runs out of it, it cools and slows down. Turning your compost pile will increase decomposition because it increases the oxygen that is used to oxidize the carbon. On my homestead, I have two compost piles. One that I turn weekly during the summer and produce compost rapidly. I have yet to find a machine at the gym that will work all the muscle groups that turning compost does! The other one is a huge pile that I let sit for almost a year-and-a-half before it completely composts. The difference between the two is not the difference ingredients but the oxygen that is added to it.

Compost piles also need their vitamins, just like any living thing. The best vitamins to add are things that add extra nitrogen, phosphorus, and micronutrients. These can be alfalfa meal for nitrogen, rock phosphate for phosphorus, and green sand or kelp for micronutrients like magnesium, calcium and potassium.

Last ingredient is water. Water, in the right amounts, maintains activity. Water is added to a compost pile through rain or through manual watering. Do you see why it's important to have your compost pile in zone two or maybe zone three? Compost can be a slow or rapid process and it all depends on your management.

Now that I've told you what compost is, why location is so important, the size of a proper compost pile, and what a compost pile needs to survive. Let's get to my secret!

My secret ingredient to the perfect compost pile or compost is my barn!

For years I have struggled to find the amounts of carbon and nitrogen materials to build the proper size of compost pile. But, since we have built our goat barn on our homestead, our organic waste has tripled. Not only have I been able to find the materials I need from an easy source but that source is in my backyard!

#1 My barn is giving me an abundance of carbon material. The carbon in my barn is waste hay my goat threw on the ground. It is important, though, that if you do use hay that you use a hay that is free of pesticides. We buy our hay from our neighbors, who have small fields in production and a weed problem. Why? Because this proves they don't spray and are too small to deal with the cost and time to spray their fields. We also buy alfalfa hay from an organic grower who does not spray her fields.

#2 My barn produces the perfect amount of green material, AKA nitrogen. We get this from our goat manure and urine! I know it's gross! Why is this better than grass clippings and other green waste is because it's already partly decomposed and is already premixed into our brown material at the perfect ratio.

#3 My barn also adds the extra nutrients. When I feed my goats their Alfalfa to boost their milk production. Their Alfalfa pellet waste is added to my barn waste. I also feed my goats peas to balance their calcium to phosphorus ratio. Alfalfa is high in calcium and calcium cannot be properly digested by my goats without supplying phosphorus. I also feed my goats kelp which helps them get their micronutrient, iodine, and in turn supplements my compost with the same micronutrients.

All in all, compost is a complicated process but it is not hard to implement in your garden. Just remember it is a living thing that needs your time, care, and the proper diet!

Have fun getting your hands dirty. Till next time.

Pray, Just Plant!

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