Making and using compost in the backyard part 1


[ Music ] [Joe Van Rossum:]
Hello and welcome to the Wisconsin Master
Composter Program, making and using compost
in your back yard part 1. My name is Joe Van Rossum
and I am a specialist with the University of
Wisconsin Extension. In Part 1, I will be talking
about the history of compost, the benefits of its use and how
you can use it in your yard. [ Music ] [Joe Van Rossum:] But
first, what is composting? Composting is the controlled
decomposition of organic matter in the presence of oxygen that
can transform waste materials such as kitchen scraps
and leaves into a valuable soil amendment
Compost, when added to the soil, improves soil health and
provides a number of benefits for the plants that
you grow in the soil. People decide to
start composting for a number of reasons. Some want to take responsibility for the waste they
produce at home. A backyard compost pile is
one way to reduce the volume of waste being sent
to the landfill. When you reduce the
volume of waste being sent to the landfill you
also reduce the amount of money your community spends to manage the waste you
set out for collection. Each one of us may produce
650 pounds of waste each year that can be composted. Others start composting in order to produce a valuable
soil amendment to enhance their
garden or landscape. High-quality compost
can be expensive. By making your own compost
you can control what goes into the compost and
reduce the volume of compost products you need to purchase Making
compost is not a new idea. Many cultures used the
process of composting to return nutrients to the soil. Archeologists have
found evidence of humans practicing composting
nearly 7,000 years ago in China, as well as in Peru
4,600 years ago. Notable writers such as William
Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh
all mentioned the use of compost in their works. Sir Albert Howard started the
modern age of composting in 1905 on a farm in Indore India. His goal was to develop
farming methods that the average Indian farmer
would be able to afford to use. Large scale composting
was pioneered by a Dutch entrepreneur
who used trains to deliver waste materials
where it was then placed into piles 20 feet high
and 1,560 feet long. The Rodale Book of Composting
has become an essential guide to making compost for gardeners. JL Rodale founded
the Rodale Institute in 1947 based upon the
principles of healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. First published in 1960, its easy to follow directions
are still valid today. Compost provides many benefits
to soil, the organisms living in the soil and the plants
that are grown in it. Compost is referred to
as a fertilizer by some, but it can do much
more for your garden than just deliver
nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Compost provides many
benefits to the soil. It can loosen heavy clay soils or it can help sandy
soils hold onto moisture. In all soil types it
improves soil structure and adds organic matter, which stimulates
beneficial soil organisms. Compost has also been shown to
encourage vigorous root growth and allow plants to more
efficiently utilize nutrients. Compost also helps
to retain nutrients by increasing soil
cation exchange capacity. Cation exchange capacity plays
a large role in the movement of nutrients in the soil. Your compost is also alive. The bacteria and fungi living
in your compost can aid in increasing the population of beneficial microbes
living in your soil. In short, compost
improves soil health. You can use or apply
compost in any number of ways around your yard. Prior to establishing plants
you can till the compost into the soil or planting beds. Some people will blend
compost with other ingredients such as vermiculite, peat moss
or soil to create mixes for use in containers or
for starting seeds. Other uses include as mulch
around established plants or for topdressing
lawns or turf grass. Before you use your compost
be sure it has matured. The compost should
have an earthy smell and you should not be
able to recognize any of the ingredients you
used to make the compost. The compost should no longer
be self-heating and be at ambient air temperature. Finished compost may be referred to as being a stable
or mature compost. You can perform a couple of
simple tests on your compost to see if it is mature. Cucumbers seeds can be
used to check your compost. Fill two or three 16-ounce
plastic cups three-fourths full of compost and plant five
cucumber seeds in each cup. In the same number of cups place
a soil mix you know to be good and add the same number of
seeds, this is your control. Water and place the cups in a
warm sunny spot for 14 days. Make sure the cups
don’t get too dry. At the end of the trial
period compare the plants in the compost with
those in the control. If the results are comparable
the compost is ready to use. If the seeds in the
compost don’t germinate or the plants appear
stunted, allow the compost to mature longer before using. Another test is to place a
few handfuls of moist compost into a zip-top bag and seal
for five to seven days. After this time period open
the bag and smell the compost. If there is no odor of ammonia or rotten egg the compost is
most likely mature and ready to use Using unfinished or immature compost can
cause issues in the garden. Immature compost can
compete with your plants for nitrogen leading to a nitrogen deficiency
in the plants. Be sure your compost is
mature before mixing it into a planting bed or
making a potting mix. Some people prefer compost that
has a more uniform texture. This can be achieved
by passing your compost through a screening device
to remove large pieces of material from the compost. You can build your own
screen using hardware cloth with half-inch openings. The larger particles
you remove can be added to your next batch of compost. You can then test your
screened compost for maturity. Compost can be used in a number of ways wherever you
are growing plants. If you are preparing
a planting bed or lawn for seeding you can mix a
two inch layer of compost into the top 6 to
8 inches of soil. When you use compost as a mulch around established plants you
can safely apply 1 to 3 inches of compost on the
surface of the soil. Be sure not to place
compost against plant stems or tree trunks as it can cause
that part of the plant to rot. If you want to top dress
your lawn feel free to spread up to one-half inch of
compost at a given time. Here are a couple of recipes for
creating potting or soil mixes. For seedlings you can
mix two parts of compost with two parts peat moss
and one part vermiculite. This mix also works well
in pots and planters. For a soil based mix
add one part compost, one part topsoil along with
one part sand or vermiculite. This mix works well for
transplanting seedlings into pots or other containers. This presentation provides you
with some basic information about compost and
how you can use it. If you feel you need more
information contact your County Extension office or
visit the University of Wisconsin Extension
online learning store to find more information about
making and using compost. [ Music ] [Joe Van Rossum:] In
part one of making and using compost I talked about
why people choose to compost, the history of composting and
how you can begin to use compost in your yard or garden. In part 2 I will
teach you how to build and manage a compost pile
right in your own back yard. I am Joe Van Rossum
from University of Wisconsin Extension and this
has been the Wisconsin Master Composter program,
making and using compost in your back yard part 1. [ Music ] [ End ]

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