In a previous installment of this series, we looked at the fast-growing, highly productive technique of vertical gardening. In this article, we will look at another interesting, cost-effective and natural way to help you achieve optimal soil conditions in your garden and offer some practical tips on getting the best out of your efforts.
If you are a backyard gardener and have not been teaming up with nature to create your own compost, you are missing out on a highly productive and free source of fertilizer and soil conditioner. Composting is easy and its beneﬁts are beyond measure. We hope to provide you with the basic information that you will need to turn your yard and kitchen waste (wet waste) into an invaluable asset for your gardens.
What is compost?
It is the rich, dark and crumbly product that is created through natureʼs method of recycling. More speciﬁcally, it is the enriched organic matter that remains after the biological decomposition of organic materials.
Composting is a natural function that happens with or without human intervention. However, when we have the intention to produce a large, beneﬁcial and safe supply of compost for use in our gardens, we can certainly assist nature and accelerate this process. We can also be mindful to ensure that only ingredients that are known to be beneﬁcial for healthy compost are added. Furthermore, we can avoid all ingredients that are known to be toxic as well as those that inhibit the breakdown process.
Composting is a great way to reduce the waste stream. Did you know nearly 20% of all municipal waste is composed of grass clippings, leaves and brush?
When you compost, you are able to reuse this waste in addition to much of your kitchen-waste, to create a free and desirable natural fertilizer and soil conditioner. This is one of many things we can do to help protect our fragile environment. We are the successors and stewards of the Earth, entrusted with much responsibility.
“And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful” [Qur’an: Chapter 6, Verse 165].
What goes in?
Many things that you may often consider to be trash are highly valuable ingredients that can be added to your compost.
From your backyard you can add leaves, grass clippings and other yard-waste, and from your kitchen add vegetable scraps, egg shells and spent coffee grounds. You can also include manure of cows, chicken, horses and rabbits. Fireplace ash too can be mixed in with your compost in limited amounts (see tips at end of article).
What stays out?
Other than egg shells, do not include any other animal products such as meat, fish, oily foods and dairy products in your compost. Manure from pets such as dogs and cats and other meat-eating animals must be avoided. So too with weeds that have already gone to seed, and those weeds that root easily from stems or rhizomes.
Although straw is safe, hay generally contains weed and grass seeds, and thus should be kept out. In addition, if you include pine needles, do so only in small amounts as they decompose very slowly. Most importantly, avoid grass trimmings from chemically-treated lawns and anything else that may contain toxins or contaminants.
Comparing compost systems
There are many types of compost systems that can be created or purchased. The most economical choice is usually to make your own. The ready-made systems cost anywhere from $30 to several hundred dollars. Here is a simple comparison of just a few options.
Basic compost pile: This is the most simple system. If you chose to have a free standing compost pile you should choose a space that is a minimum of 4x4x4 ft. You will simply begin the pile with a layer of brown materials such as straw, leaves, and small twigs. Once you have the base layer down you can add several inches of green material. This would include grass clippings, compost-friendly weeds and wet waste from the kitchen. In addition, it is in this layer that you can add manure from animals such as livestock, pet rabbits, etc.
Note: It is worth mentioning again to be mindful to never include manure from animals that are carnivores, such as dogs and cats.
Continue to add materials layer by layer, alternating between green and brown layers until the pile is at least 3 ft in height. It is also helpful to add a bit of garden soil in each of the layers.
Do not pile it up in excess of 6 ft, as the weight will compact the ingredients and decrease the amount of oxygen available for decomposition. Do not get too hung up on perfecting your layers because you will be tossing and turning your compost with a shovel or garden fork from time to time for proper aeration.
Cement block compost pile: Cement blocks can be stacked so as to contain your compost. For proper aeration, you can either allow space between the blocks or you can stack the cement blocks with the holes facing in toward the compost.
Compost bin: There are many types of prefabricated compost bins that are available for purchase. Some are simple bins that have an opening on top and a sliding door at the bottom for removing your black gold.
There are other types of bins that are off the ground and have a handle for spinning the container from time to time for tossing and turning the compost inside, again, for proper aeration. This eliminates the need for turning your compost with a shovel or garden fork, which can be quite difficult to do in a basic compost bin.
Other enclosure options: Chicken wire, untreated wood pallets, straw bales, snow fencing, etc.
Grass clippings: Remember that it is always best to leave grass clippings on your lawn when mowing. The clippings are quick to decompose and they help to naturally fertilize the lawn.
However, if you do bag some of your grass clippings and want to add them to your compost pile, be sure that the clippings do not mat. Matting can lead to increased moisture retention resulting in a decrease in available oxygen. When this happens, the compost pile cannot heat up to temperatures that are high enough to kill the weed seeds and detrimental organisms. A sewage-like odor is a clear indication that this is happening. To prevent this from happening, it is very important to periodically turn your compost to allow for increased aeration.
Fireplace ash: When adding ash, it must be mixed into the compost and only used in limited amounts, as it can deplete the compost pile of nitrogen during its decomposition process.
When we witness how everything natural happens in perfect order — the cycles of the plant life, from seed to growth, decomposition and regrowth — we witness the amazing gift of balance and harmony given to the earth by Allah , Al Khāliq (The Creator).
“And it is He who sends down rain from the sky, and We produce thereby the growth of all things. We produce from it greenery from which We produce grains arranged in layers. And from the palm trees — of its emerging fruit are clusters hanging low. And [We produce] gardens of grape vines and olives and pomegranates, similar yet varied. Look at [each of] its fruit when it yields and [at] its ripening. Indeed in that are signs for a people who believe” [Qur’an: Chapter 6, Verse 99].
Let us observe these cycles and follow this example to help reduce waste, and thereby the need to transport waste. Let us reduce, perhaps even eliminate, the need for man-made chemical formulations in our backyards, lawns and gardens, which are so often found to be toxic to animals, humans and the planet.
“It is Allah who made for you the earth a place of settlement and the sky a ceiling and formed you and perfected your forms and provided you with good things. That is Allah , your Lord; then blessed is Allah, Lord of the worlds” [Qur’an: Chapter 40, Verse 64].
Let us turn nature’s way of recycling to our advantage and sow the gains all around us in a creative, constructive manner. Remember, we have a duty to care for all lifeforms.
“And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered” [Qur’an: Chapter 6, Verse 38].
So give composting a go! We’d love to hear from you about your composting experiments. Please share your experience, tips or questions in comments below.