A Permaculture Garden Guide To Composting

Aging Compost Heap
Aging Compost Heap

One of the key skills any permaculture gardener should learn is how to create good compost. Creating a good compost is key to creating abundant, productive and sustainable permaculture gardens. If you want to be able to grow your food using permaculture principles then creating compost is one of the foundations upon which your garden will be based. This guide to composting in a permaculture garden will help you make your garden the thriving, resource-rich ecosystem that it should be.

Why Composting is Important

 Composting is an important element of gardening because it allows you to adhere to the permaculture ethic of returning the surplus to the system. It allows you to eliminate waste, and make full use of the natural resources at your disposal. It enables you to care for the soil of your growing areas, and to make them rich, fertile places to grow a range of fruit trees and other edible and useful plants. When you create and use compost in your garden, you are completing the natural cycles and creating systems that can endure and sustain for many years to come.

Black Compost Bin
Black Compost Bin with two compartments, which tumbles

Composting Methods

 There are some different ways to create compost. The main methods used in a permaculture garden are:

  • Composting in Place (Sheet mulching with organic materials and allowing them to decompose on top of the soil of your growing areas.)
  • Cold Composting (Creating a heap or large bin in which compost is slowly created.)
  • Hot Composting (Creating the conditions for faster, warmer decomposition in a bin or other container.)
  • Vermiculture (Creating compost with the help of special worms.)
Mushroom growing in Forest Floor Compost
Mushroom growing in Forest Floor Compost

Creating Compost in a Permaculture Garden

 No matter which method you are using to create your compost, the principles at play remain the same. You are taking organic materials that are considered to be ‘waste’ and creating the conditions for their decomposition. Once decomposed, the compost is used to conserve or enhance the fertility of the soil.

Creating a good compost involves a basic understanding of the different sorts of material in a compost heap. The materials are grouped into two categories – carbon-rich ‘brown’ materials and nitrogen-rich ‘green’ materials. Both types are necessary to create a good-quality compost. Brown materials include cardboard, straw, twiggy material, wood chips, and bark. Green materials include green leafy matter, grass clippings, and fruit and vegetable scraps.

To get a good mix in your compost, you should add ‘brown’ and ‘green’ materials in thin layers. Adding in thin layers allows for the right conditions for aerobic decomposition and helps to ensure that your compost does not become too wet or too dry.

In addition to thinking about getting the right mix of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials in your compost, creating good compost also involves thinking about getting a good balance of the main nutrients that plants need to grow: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as the various micro-nutrients needed by plant life. Adding a good mix of different ingredients to your compost will help to create compost with a good nutrient balance.

Creating compost is not rocket science. Anyone can create good, crumbly compost for use in their forest gardens or polyculture vegetable beds.

 Related References

 

What To Compost

A large variety of things can be composted. Basically, if a thing can be decomposed (with a few practical exceptions) within a reasonable period of time, then they can be composted.

A Few Guidelines To Help The Process

  • smaller is better: this is true of most things relating to compost. So, chop, shred, and/or tear items into small pieces to expedite debt decomposition and the mixing of the compost heap materials.
  • mixing is good: too much density of any one material will slow the decomposition process, causing stratification, and make the mixing of the compost heap more difficult.
  • know what is done enough: Some consideration should be given to how you intend to use the compost and what is considered done enough for use. Some slowly decomposing items may only need to be aged and/or partially decomposed to be useful in the garden. For example, wood shavings can add value to the humus of the soil or as a pathway materials after only a little aging, if everything else in the compost has completely decomposed.
  • have multiple heaps: having at least two compost heaps and/or bins (even if small) is strongly recommended. So, you may have a heap for current use, while your old heap is finishing.

Compostable Household Items

Here are a few household items which can be composted:

  • office paper (shredded)
  • old newspapers (non-glossy)
  • Wood ash (cooled and out)
  • cardboard (non-glossy or coated)
  • paper towels (including center cardboard tube)
  • paper bags (shredded)
  • egg cartons (made of uncoated paper or cardboard)
  • Eggshells (crushed)
  • kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps
  • teabags and coffee grounds (including paper filters)
  • old houseplants and potting soil (if not diseased)

Compostable Yard And Barn Items

Many yard and barn wastes can be composted. A few, which come to mind are:

  • grass cutting (not treated with herbicide)
  • autumn leaves (best if mixed with other materials, especially, animal manures)
  • old straw and hay (broken up into small sections)
  • livestock manure (chicken, rabbit, cow, horse)
  • sawdust and wood shavings (smaller pieces are better)
  • tree and brush waste (chopped small)
  • old lumber (free of nails and paint; chopped small)

Items to Exclude From The Compost Heap

Certain items need to be excluded from the compost heap to ensure proper compost culture, avoid unwanted orders, avoid attracting unwanted pests and/or to keep the compost from being detrimental to the soil culture.

  • plastic, metal, and/or glass items
  • waste chemicals and paints
  • Cat litter
  • dog waste
  • disposable diapers and wipes
  • glossy magazines
  • glossy newspapers
  • glossy or plastic-coated cardboard boxes
  • meat
  • fish
  • cooking and other oils and greases
  • cook foods containing meat and/or heavy oils

Related References