The ABC’s of Compost

Creating compost can be as easy as 1-2-3

Using compost is as basic as A-B-C

By Sarah Everson

Composting is a great way to be earth friendly and prevent pollution by diverting materials that produce methane from landfills. The end product – compost – enriches soil fertility, increases retention of water and air in the soil, and stimulates healthy root development of plants growing there.

Creating compost

Collect carbon-rich materials such as leaves, used potting soil and wood chips. Mix with nitrogen-rich materials such as fruit and vegetable waste, spent coffee grounds and fresh grass clippings. Meat, oily or greasy food, and manure should NEVER be added to a compost pile.

You will need a bin or an area to make the pile. The pile can be in a durable container, a fenced off area or just sitting in a heap. Mix three parts of the carbon material to one part of the nitrogen material, making sure to always cover the nitrogen material. Make sure there is about 40-55% water mixed with the materials. Then sit back and let the natural process of composting happen, as microorganisms transform organic waste into a “black gold” called compost. Another option is to place the compost pile in a chicken wire cage in one corner of your garden. Rain water will then carry nutrients to the garden plants.

Using compost

Finished compost appears dark and crumbly, and it has a sweet earthy smell. Remnants of the original material may be present; these can be picked out and mixed into the next patch of compost. Compost can take up to 12 months to produce. The time to finish depends on a number of factors, including how much volume is in the pile, the variety and types of feedstock used, and the type of bin used, among other things. Compost can be added to soil any time of the year without having to worrying about burning plants or polluting water. For best success when planting, compost should be well mixed with soil and sand in the following ratio: seven parts soil to three parts compost to two parts sand.

Compost can be used as mulch. Compost mulch protects trees and plants during periods of extreme heat or cold throughout the year. It is best to cover the garden or mulch area with one to two inches of compost.

Soil should be amended before building a new garden. Do this by adding three to four inches of compost to the plot and tilling it into the first six inches of the soil. Existing gardens also benefit from a layer of compost each fall or spring. Compost promotes root growth and attracts earth worms to the garden, which help aerate the soil.

When it comes to potted plant mix, no more than one part compost to three parts soil. Watering with compost steeped “tea” is a great way to deliver nutrients to plants, especially when transporting plants and young seedlings. Compost tea is a manure-free liquid fertilizer “brewed” from regular compost. Simply fill a burlap bag with compost and soak it in water for 24 hours. The compost nutrients will leach out into the water, ready for direct application.

Remember, in general, it doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have at your disposal. Mixing compost with it will improve its quality safely and naturally. For more informationon composting, please visit the following Web sites:;;; and .

Sarah Everson is the business manager for Compost Joe’s Premium Soils and Organics, a private composting facility located between Fond du Lacand Oshkosh. Sarah also offers seminars and private classes on composting. For more information, visit or call her at 920.251.3464.

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