Kerry D. Heafner is assistant extension agent in horticulture at the LSU AgCenter’s Ouachita Parish extension office in West Monroe. He is NE Region coordinator for the Louisiana Master Gardener program, and is an adjunct instructor of biology at Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe.
 

 
 

How to Make Compost
by Kerry Heafner - posted 12/16/15

How to Make Compost
- Demonstration by Kerry Heafner

You know fall of the year is the perfect time to start rejuvenating your garden beds for next spring, and in this vegetable garden, the perfect thing to do is add compost now so it can settle in and nutrients can be released in time for the spring plant. So, come on back with us and we’ll show you how to set up a compost pile.

Now, setting up a compost pile for your own home garden couldn’t be simpler, and the good news is that the materials needed will come at little to no expense. So, that’s always a plus.

In this case, I’m using some four-foot fence post that I got from the local garden center, and I’m simply going to hammer these into the ground in a circular pattern. Now, when the fence post are in the ground, I’ll wrap some hardware cloth - or really you can use any wire you have available. Two by four wire works perfectly. I’m going to wrap the wire around this, and that will do two things. First, it will keep the material being composted contained. Second of all, it will allow good airflow across the pile because keeping the compost pile oxygenated during the composting process is going to be key.

Now that we have our compost pile blocked off, it’s time to start adding the materials, and the first thing we’re going to add is some finished compost. And, that’s simply because finished compost contains all the microorganisms that will kickstart a new compost and carry on the decomposition process. Now we have some finished compost in there for a good microbial foundation.

The next thing we want to add is some kitchen scraps, and I’m often asked, “Well, what can we compost out of the kitchen.” Well, really anything plant based. What you want to avoid are animal products like meat scraps and bones. Those will be very slow to breakdown and they might invite some uninvited guests to your compost pile and we don’t want that.

What I’m going to put in here now are just simply some kitchen scraps, and you’ll see it’s banana peels, some old leaf petioles off of greens, some carrots tops, some cherry tomatoes that are a little past their peak. And, you’ll also notice some egg shells. A wonderful source of calcium. And, you can find egg shells very readily. So, any of this material would be perfect for the compost pile.

Now, this is going to be kind of a magic ingredient we’ll add to the compost pile. These are coffee grounds, and you can get these from your local coffee shop. They’re often very glad to give them away because all they do with them is throw them away anyway. Coffee grounds are a wonderful source of nitrogen and they will also help improve the soil – workability of the soil – tilth you’ll sometimes hear it called. And, we’ll put this into the compost pile as well. We don’t want too much, but just enough to get the compost pile to heat up. And coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen.

Now, we’re going to cover this with some type of organic material – leaves, hay, straw anything like that will work. I’m going to use some maple leaves that I’ve raked up out of the yard. And, we’ll put this on top to sort of keep everything under the layer of leaves warm and that’ll start decomposing. There are also insects in these leaves that will start decomposing all this organic matter as well as soil fungi and bacteria. So, we’ll keep the leaves on top of that, and that will allow the compost pile to stay warm so the microbes can start doing their thing breaking all this wonderful organic material down.  

Now the last thing to go on the compost pile is some water. We want to keep the compost pile, not saturated, but just moist enough to promote good microbial growth.  All of these bacteria and fungi that are going to breakdown this material need moisture. In the process of decomposition, a lot of heat will be generated. It’ll even be possible to come out here on a cold winter day, open up the compost pile and watch steam literally erupt out of the center of the compost pile. So, over a period of months, this material will break down and will have that wonderful black gold material that will be ready to go in the garden in the springtime.

Now, it’s going to be very important to come out periodically and turn the compost pile with a shovel or some time of garden tool. Now once the compost pile has stopped heating up, the compost is finished. And at that point it’s ready to harvest and go into the garden bed.

 

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