Compost, otherwise known as humus, is the result of a controlled gradual aerobic microbial decomposition of organic material. It is used in gardening to improve the structure of the soil and encourage the slow release of nutrients to plants. Compost also improves soil's water holding capacity and enrichs the soil's bacterial activity.
There are two systems of composting:
- Cool System - This system uses leaves, grass clippings, egg shells, pea pods, all of which slowly decompose into humus. Weeds which have gone to seed or diseased plants should not be added to the pile. This system takes longer of the two, but if you want to speed it up, you can turn the pile occasionally, add nitrogenous fertilizer along with some water. If you notice ants, the pile is being kept too dry.
- Hot System - This is an accelerated system which may also kill any weed seeds as well as any plant diseases that have found their way into the compost pile. Compost should not smell, but if you notice a smell it is probably due to excess moisture at the bottom of your compost heap. Just turn the pile to correct this. The compost pile should be turned every three to four days. Decomposition will increase in warm summer months, and then take more time in spring and fall. Compost is 'done' when it is no longer hot and is an odor-free crumbling substance.
Compost should not be smelly or attract bugs or rodents. If it does, than something needs to be changed. Consult your local extension agent for more composting tips, or stop by All Seasons and talk to our gardening experts.