The Right Mix:
Composting is basically a matter of getting the ‘mix’ right:
- ‘green’ materials
- ‘brown’ materials
- microbes, funghi, bugs, worms etc.
Browns: Drier materials in which carbon content dominates. They include:
- Fallen & dried leaves
- Hay & Straw
- Shredded paper & Cardboard
- Crushed/mulched woody prunings & twigs
- Crushed eggshells
- Mashed corn Cobs
Greens: Materials in which nitrogen content dominates. They include:
- Vegetable & fruit scraps
- Grass Clippings
- Coffee Grounds
- Fresh leaves, hedge trimmings
Note: This distinction between ‘greens’ & ‘browns’ is not necessarily about specific materials. As prospective fresh compost materials dry out & start to decompose they can start off ‘green’ and then become ‘brown’ (or ‘browner’) as their nitrogen content is lost to the atmosphere & their carbon content predominates. Composting is just ‘active management’ of what is otherwise a natural process of decomposition. It’s all about understanding the composting process, maintaining a suitable balance in your compost mix & keeping our microbial & other tiny friends happy!
So if your compost mix seems to have ‘stalled’ & appears to be going nowhere – as a rule of thumb – consider adding more ‘greens’ (fresh lawn trimmings or some chicken manure mixed in makes good rocket-fuel for microbial activity!) Adding water can also get a dry, stalled mix going again. And of course, if your compost mix becomes overly ‘gluggy’ and starts to smell sour, it’ll be too wet. Turn it thoroughly to allow air in, mix in some straw or other ‘browns’ & go easy on the water!
Composting with Horse Manure. Despite concerns about grass seeds & weird ‘worming’ chemicals, horse-manure can be a composter’s dream, especially for those with big gardens to maintain. Your local pony club will usually give the stuff away & it makes for an excellent, ‘finely-tilthed’ composting outcome, although the process can take a bit longer than with other materials. And for the householder with a bigger garden, it allows for composting on a larger scale! You will need to have space for a larger heap, bay or container (an old tank ring works well) & a suitable turning fork. Placing the mix on bare ground seems best as it allows access for worms etc. The following mix seems to work well for house-hold use:
- about 60-70% horse manure
- about 25-35% ‘greens’- coffee grounds, lawn clippings, chicken manure etc
- about 5% straw, shredded card board & other fine ‘browns’.
Horse manure is high in nitrogen (so is quite ‘green’), but as horses only have one stomach and because their stalls & yards are often bedded with straw, bagged manure often ends up containing lots of straw (‘browns’). Which is a very good thing! But it does mean that a horse-manure based compost needs to be:
- larger – usually around 1 cubic metre or more &…
…otherwise the decomposition will take many months. You need a larger volume to hot-compost so you need to be suitably organised. There’s some good information in the two links below!