Hey folks! If you haven't read my first article about composting, I suggest you give that one a read before you dive into this one. Here it is: https://steemit.com/gardening/@brownsgreens/compost-basics-part-1-introduction
This information is for those of you who are already avid composters (you may not know some of these details) and also for you newbies who want to start out doing it RIGHT.But like I have said, composting can be as complicated or simple as you want to make it, so don't get overwhelmed.
Next year, I will be integrating a compost collection service into my business so I have been doing a lot of research about how to compost commerically. My biggest source of education, actually, as been a government document called 6 CCR 1007-2 Part 1 (https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Part-2.pdf), which is the Department of Health's code of regulations that governs hazardous waste management. Compost is considered a hazardous waste here in Colorado, and thus falls under these regulations. Though probably none of you are planning on composting commercially, the Dept of Health is the ultimate authority on how to do composting effectively. I have also been composting in my back yard for 5 years, I've read some books on it, and helped a lot of folks get started doing it. Here are my 3 biggest take-aways from my research and experience:
GET THE MIX RIGHT: A compost pile can vastly be improved if it has a well balanced mix of materials, which promotes the health of the two key composters, Bacteria and Fungi. You need both of these guys to break down food scraps and yard waste properly, and too much of one or the other can create problems. So how do you get these guys balanced and healthy in your compost? One way is to watch the ratio of the "green" and "brown" materials you put into your compost. "Green" material is new, recently died material that still has some green or other life colors in it. "Brown" materials are older, long dead materials. Most compost experts recommend about 1 part green compost to 30 parts brown compost for a healthy mix. Watching the ratio of the actual materials themselves can help promote a balance of Bacteria and Fungi as well. Bacteria like to break down materials that are high in nitrogen. This would include most leafy, green plant waste, like grass clippings, fall leaves, etc. Basically, when you think food for the bacteria, think light, fluffy, green organic matter. Fungi, however, like materials that are tougher and woodier.
For Fungi food, think denser, carbon rich, brown stuff, like wood chips, stems, etc. Most experts will say a good mix of these two materials will consist of 60% carbon rich stuff and 40% nitrogen rich stuff. I prefer my mix about 50/50 because I like the outcome of a nitrogen rich compost for my food gardening. However, if you have too many nitrogen rich materials you can end up with mold and pest problems. Likewise, if you end up with too much carbon rich material in your compost, it's going to take a long time to break down and if you're trying to use it in food gardening, your produce can end up with some nasty bitter or spicy flavors (in my experience).
TURN IT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH: It is very important to turn your compost pile occasionally so that oxygen is introduced into the decomposition process. But if you turn it too much, you are slowing down the composting process and potentially allowing some detrimental microbes/weed seeds to survive that you don't want to survive. The Department of Health advises to allow the center of your compost pile to reach 131 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter before turning. They advise to let it remain at this temperature for 15 days, and they require the pile to be flipped a total of 5 times. So the ideal formula would be to bring the pile to 131 degrees, let it sit for 3 days, then flip it, and repeat the process 5 times. Once you've done this, you have finished, safe, ready to go compost. This can take a while, in Colorado usually close to a year. And of course, remember to moisten the compost when you turn it. You don't want it to ever be soupy or sludgy, but damp is good.
HAVE MULTIPLE PILES: A mistake all of us backyard composters make is we try to do everything in one pile. You can do this, but it takes waaaaaay longer to produce usable compost. I recommend that you maintain at least two piles at a time. One pile for your fresh food scraps and yard waste, one pile for your compost that is already in process. When you have a pile that's decomposing and generating heat as the microbes do their work, every new load of fresh plant matter is more work for the microbes to incorporate and it slows the process down. Once I started separating out my piles by age, I noticed a HUGE difference in both speed and compost quality.
Hope this helps! Compost away!