This is a guest post by Gayle from Gainesville
[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win a number of prizes including an 84 serving storage bucket of Wise Food Storage, 500 rounds of 9mm ammo, a NukAlert a copy of my book The Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat and a copy of my CD It’s The End Of The World As We Know It – And I Feel Fine . For complete rules and list of prizes see this post.]
I have learned so much from this survival blog and I wanted to give back. So I thought long and hard about what I could contribute. Having read the posts on garden woes for the past few weeks, I thought it might be good to write about composting. I have been compost gardening for a couple of years now, and the difference is marked—increased production, and fewer disease and pest problems.
Why compost? First and foremost, it’s a good idea to improve your soil before a SHTF scenario, and composing is the best and cheapest way to improve your soil. After things go south, we may not have ready access to composting ingredients. Second, post-SHTF there will be little access to fertilizers and pesticides. So, it’s best to learn to garden naturally.
What does composting do? Composting improves the biodiversity of the soil, which means the harmful bacteria will have to compete with the beneficial bacteria, and in the composting world, the good guys almost always win. Composting adds organic matter to your soil, and that in turn improves the soil’s texture, drainage, moisture holding capacity, and fertility. Healthier soil means healthier plants, and healthier plans are better able to withstand pests and diseases. Healthier plants are more tolerant of temperature extremes and drought.
It is easy to get started. You do not need a compost bin to compost. Composting happens on the forest floor without a handy-dandy bin. There are advantages of building a bin. The first is cosmetic—a bin keeps things tidy. The second advantage is structural—there is a critical mass necessary to generate heat, and heat speeds decomposition. A good size for a bin is three cubic feet. Anything smaller won’t heat up well; anything larger is cumbersome.
Experts who write on composting usually talk about “greens” and “browns”. The “greens” are nitrogen and the “browns” are carbon. Examples of nitrogen-rich greens are grass cuttings, veggie and fruit peels, eggshells, used coffee grounds (with the coffee filter), and farm manure. Examples of carbon-rich browns include autumn leaves, corn stocks, straw and hay.
Experts also talk about the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. The C:N ratio should be about 25:1, that is, 25 parts carbon for every one part nitrogen. To have a workable compost pile, you don’t need to weigh your ingredients and determine ratios of this to that. Your pile will tell you if you’ve got too much nitrogen (the pile will stink) or too much carbon (the pile won’t heat up).
Here’s what you need to do. Get some leaves, corn stalks, or other dried material (the browns) and dump them on the pile. Keep a plastic can (a coffee can works well) on your kitchen counter. Every time you peel carrots or potatoes, put the peelings in the can. Put in every bit of fruit and vegetable waste (greens). When you fill up the can, ask your dh to take it out to the compost. Keep some browns on hand so that when you dump the greens, you can add-on some browns. If you collect the clippings when you mow the lawn, put them in the compost. Then add more browns. You may need to add water during hot or dry months, but that’s it.
If you are in a hurry to get your compost finished, you can use a pitchfork and turn the contents from the inside of the pile to the outside and vice versa. If you are in no particular hurry, then just dump the materials on the pile (alternating greens and browns) and let nature take its course. You shouldn’t have any trouble with foul odors, but if you do just add some browns and turn the pile. Then determine why you had the odor—most likely you either added too many greens (and not enough browns) or you let your pile get too wet. Learn from your mistakes and go on.
That’s it. Come spring, mix in your compost with your soil and plant.
Some compost ingredients are better than others. The bulk of your browns will probably come from autumn leaves. The bulk of your greens will come from yard trimmings and kitchen waste. Do note that some kitchen wastes are important to put in the compost because of the nutrients they contain: eggshells contain calcium and calcium prevents blossom end rot. Coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen and also contain magnesium and calcium. Banana peels contain potassium. Besides the run of the mill yard clippings and autumn leaves, the three key ingredients for composting are eggshells, used coffee grounds (filter and all) and banana peels.
For further reading, I recommend The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin.