Composting 101

Judy Shuler, a Master Composter trained by Penn State, presented the do’s and don’ts of composting to a group at the St. Michaels Community Garden. Some of us who thought we were composting, now know what we need to do differently in our home piles. After her overview, Judy went to the garden and we began to build a compost pile.

Our bins are full of garden refuse that has been just thrown in the bins. This is not composting. Judy started by pulling the weeds out of one of the empty bins.

cleaning-bin-#2

The green layer of weeds and some green refuse in one of the other bins was chopped or bruised with a flat bottomed spade and thrown back in to make the first layer – a green layer. A little water was added.

chopping-green-layer

A bag of leaves was then added (a brown layer). This was easier than chopping up the dried stuff in the bin next door. That will be for another day. Some of what is in the bins has lots of soil on the roots. Judy says no soil should be added to the layers. Some of the stalks are so large they will have to be cut into small pieces or they will not decompose. Root balls may need to be removed.

brown-layer-added

The leaves – the brown layer –  was wetted, stirred with a fork until all the leaves were damp. The boards at the front of the bin were then replaced.

wetting-the-layers

This is the start of a real compost pile at our garden. Clearly we need to have more of our gardeners learn how to put things in the bins and how to build layers. Just throwing stuff in the bins is NOT composting. We also found that someone had thrown crab shells in one of the bins and hope that was not one of our gardeners. There is a list posted on the bins about what can be put in and what cannot.

To compost we need to build layers, there needs to be a certain level of dampness, and the pile needs to be stirred. It won’t be hard if more of us learn how to do it properly.

Judy Shuler is passionate about composting and will come back to help us again. We need to get as many people as possible on board with this process so we can reap the brown gold that is the end result. Our garden beds will all benefit.

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