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Composting; A Science

Compost            Everybody knows that compost is beneficial to a garden, and most people use it. But a lot of people don’t really know why it’s healthy, or how it works.

Compost is used to provide added nutrients to plants and vegetables; this helps them grow bigger and larger than they normally would. Compost is much more than just throwing away all of your scraps into one pile. For optimal compost, you must understand the science within the pile.

The three key ingredients to a successful compost pile are oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. Getting the oxygen is easy; it’s as simple as turning or rotating your compost pile every so often, and keeping it moist. The tricky part is keeping a balanced ratio of carbon and nitrogen.

Compostable materials can be broken down into two categories, green and brown. The brown materials are generally full of carbon, while the green materials are full of nitrogen. The ideal ratio is about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. This does not mean you need 30 pounds of dry leaves for every pound of banana peels. Usually using a 2:1 ratio of greens to browns will give you a 30:1 carbon/nitrogen ratio. Some examples of green materials are garden waste, soil, coffee grounds, etc. Whereas brown materials usually consist of drier things like dried leaves or nut shells.

If this ratio is unbalanced, the compost is not as effective and can even be damaging to your garden. If there is too much carbon the pile grow cold and decomposition slows down, and if the nitrogen content is too high, you will end up with high ammonia content and a stinky pile. Using compost that isn’t ready or unbalanced can cause your plants to look stunted and yellow, and will also prevent germination.

You will know when your compost is done when you can no longer recognize the materials. It should be dark brown, the same temperature as the outside air, and should have little or no smell. The texture should be crumbly and almost fluffy. Once the compost appears finished, let it sit for 2-3 weeks to ensure that it is stabilized before use.

By Josh Best

About Ecology Action Centre

This is a blog from the Food Action Committee of the Ecology Action Centre, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Join us as we document our experiments with sauerkraut, push for urban chickens, make giant batches of jam, and plant some seeds (both literally and figuratively). For more about what the Food Action Committee is working on, visit our website.


The views and opinions expressed in this content are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of haligonia.ca.


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