On Sunday, April 28, master composter Michele Kroger was so kind and joined us at Taylor Street Farms to tell us more about the wonderful world of composting.
Composting is nature´s way of recycling. Microorganisms and worms break down leaves, vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds and trimmings and produce a dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling soil conditioner. Compost replaces fertilizer – and it is organic and for free!
What´s the secret of a healthy compost?
It´s almost like baking a lasagna: a good compost needs the right layers and balance of ingredients, the right amount of moisture and the correct temperature.
Four “elements” are needed for a healthy compost:
1) Browns: Fallen leaves, woody prunings, untreated wood sawdust, mulch, black & white newspaper, soil, shredded stems and twigs (we keep them in a basket next to the compost pile so one can take it when it is required)
2) Greens: Fruit and vegetable trimmings, young weeds, lawn clippings, coffee grounds & filters, egg shells, tea bags, chicken or horse manures
Things we don´t want in our compost: meat, bones or fish; dairy products or grease; grains, breads or beans; dog, cat or bird feces; diseased plants, treated wood sawdust. These items slow down or even stop the breaking down process and have no place in compost bins.
How it works:
1) Whenever you have materials to compost (e.g. you prune your tomatoes, or need to get rid of dry leaves or wooden stems), chop them to a 4 inch (10 cm) length or smaller. It makes sense to spend 5-10 minutes each time you visit your garden to clean out the material that your garden doesn´t need and feed the compost pile. You will learn that that will save you time at the end of the season when cleaning out your plot is queuing up.
2) Put your clippings into the compost bin. After each layer of Browns, add a layer of Green, then a layer of Brown, etc. in “lasagna style”, in a ratio of 50:50 or 60:40
3) Maintain Air & Water balance by keeping the compost as moist as a wrung out sponge. Compost or dung forks are very useful to loosen up the layers to get some fresh air in. Especially in the summer, think of watering the compost as often as you would your garden plot.
4) Now the compost can start cooking. The hard working microorganisms (like microbes, worms etc.) will heat up the pile ideally between 120 – 160 degrees F (that is 49 – 71 degrees Celsius) and break down the clippings to wonderful, sweet-smelling compost.
At Taylor Street Farms we use two different composting systems. On our south corner, we have a single compost bin that we fill with above mentioned layers of healthy Greens and Browns. The bin is built in a way that we can open it on the bottom and take the compost out when it´s ready. The break down process takes about 6-12 months, depending on how small the clippings are (the smaller, the better!) and how high the temperature of the pile is.
On our north corner, we have a 3-bin turnover system. We start in the far left (west) bin with adding fresh layers of Greens and Browns and our volunteers move the compost when it´s ready to it´s second stage in bin 2. After some time it will be transferred to bin 3 where the compost will be breaking down to it´s finest – and is ready to harvest. This 3-bin system ensures that enough air is added to the compost and helps to decompose the material even faster (compost can be ready in 4-8 months).
For more information, just visit us at the farm and we will be happy to tell you more about it. In the meantime, you can check out these websites:
And here is the link to the City of Chicago´s Compost Brochure