Composting is good for the planet. It helps to divert waste away from our landfills and in return, it helps contribute to fewer greenhouse gases. If you’ve ever wanted to start composting, here’s a great article from “Garden Myths” by Robert Pavlis that shows you how to properly start composting.
Myth #1: Compost Needs the Sun to Warm Up
The myth contains some level of truth. Most o f the heat generated in compost piles is the result of microbes digesting the organic matter. Their metabolic activities generate heat, which results in warmer piles. A warm environment will keep microbes active, but if the proper ratio of greens, browns, water and air are present, the microbes will generate their own heat, in which case composting can be done in full sun or shade.
In cold climates, the extra warm of the sun is helpful if the pile is made in early spring or fall, since it kick-starts the microbe’s activity and keeps the pile warner for them at a time when they don’t generate enough heat themselves.
A sunny location can also be a problem if it dries the pile too much. Th eright level of water is essential for composting process.
Myth #2: Eggshells Are Good for the Compost Pile
People routinely add eggshells to the compost pile, believing they add value to the garden. That is mostly a myth.
Chicken eggshells contain a variety of nutrients that plants can use, including 50 ppm calcium, 39 ppm sulfur, 12 ppm sodium and 5% organic matter. The organic matter might be a surprise since it is not mentioned very often. Eggshells consist of a hard outer shell, and a soft inner white skin. The inner skin contains the organic matter and can be higher than 5% if they are not washed.
The organic matter, sulfur, magnesium, and potassium are beneficial for the garden, but you need a lot of eggs to add any significant amount. Sodium, at even low levels, is toxic to plants, and soil usually has lots of calcium, the exception might be sandy soil.
The problem with eggshells is that they do not decompose in slightly acidic or alkaline soils. Even when pulverized into a fine power, they take many years to add any value to the garden. When people hear this, they object and say that they know they decompose because they disappear. They disappear because they get broken into smaller and smaller pieces until you can’t see them, but they have not chemically decomposed.
Eggshells decompose more quickly in acidic soil, but it is still a very slow process. Consider the face that archeological digs find intact eggshells that have been buried for hundreds of years. You garden is no different.
Myth #3: Compost is Acidic
The pH of compost depends very much on the material you put into it. Wood products like sawdust will make the finished compost more acidic. If you use more manure or add some ashes from the fireplace, it will be more alkaline.
As the material decomposes, it goes through pH swings. In the initial stages, it forms organic acids that make the compost pile more acidic, lower the pH. In these acidic conditions, fungi grow better than bacteria and take over the pile and start to decompose the lignin and cellulose in plant material. As this process continues, the pH rises and bacteria become more populous. Therefore, the pH of your finished compost also depends on when you consider it to be finished. If you run things, it might still be more acidic. If you wait longer, it will be more alkaline.
Although the pH of commercial compost varies between 6 and 8, thelist can be used as a guide to estimate the pH of your compost:
- Yard debris 7.7
- Mixed manure 7.9
- Leaf 7.2
- Manure 6.4
- Bark compost 5.4
Myth #4: Compost Will Acidify Soil
The claim is popular and is based on the assumption that compost is acidic.
Homemade compost is rarely acidic, so it won’t acidify soil. Even acidic compost is not likely to change soil pH.
One of the benefits of compost is that it buffers pH. As ions produces from decomposition process, it absorbs them and prevents them from affecting the pH of the soil. This buffering action has the effect of moving the soil pH cloer to neutral, but don’t expect huge swings.
Myth#5: Compost Tumblers Make Compost in Two Weeks
Manufacturers of compost tumblers claim that you can make compost in two weeks. This sounds like a great idea. Instead of waiting months, you can have instant compost.
A compost tumbler is some type of container that can be easily turned. It is usually made from a plastic barrel that is raised up on legs and fitted with a hand crank. Compost matures faster if it is turned on a regular basis, and compost tumblers are designed to make the turning process easy – you just turn the handle.
One reason compost piles are slow is that the microbes do not get enough air. By mixing up the ingredients more frequently, air is added and it matures faster. The is certainly sound science.
Compost tumblers do have benefits:
- Turning most tumblers is easier than turning a compost pile
- Since it’s a closed system, rodents an other animals will not be a problem
- Some people feel it looks better
- It may produce fewer odors