easy guide to composting

A little interview with Milwaukeean James Godsil, co-founder of Sweet Water Organics and former board member at Will Allen’s Growing Power, where his love affair with urban farming began. He is also my papa. Additionally, he is a great fan of Youtube. And those little babies above are last season’s raspberries.

Why should one start composting at home?

Composting is easy, fun, and leads to many forms of wealth!

What simple tools and materials do you need to start with?

If you are discreet you can simply start your compost pile in a shady corner near a fence or garage/house wall. Start by putting down 3 or 4 layers of cardboard. On top of that put leaves, grass, or wood chips. Save your own leaves and your neighbor’s leaves too! Most cities have places you can go to get wood chips or composting leaves. Call landscape or tree trimming companies and ask them to dump some of their “carbon” ingredients at your house or some place you can get access to, e.g. the lot or backyard of someone who would not mind. Once you get the equivalent of about 3 trash cans worth of carbon ingredients like wood chips, dried leaves, grass, etc. you can start adding “nitrogen” elements from your kitchen, e.g. fruit and vegetable wastes (but not meat, not dairy!). If it gets too hot out, water your compost pile. If it doesn’t rain for a long time, water it anyway.

How does the breakdown in plant/natural matter occur and how long does it take to get to usable compost?

A small compost pile will probably not generate that much heat and could take as long as a year to be ready. If your pile becomes about 6 ft. high and wide and long, it will probably be large enough to generate enough heat to be ready in 8 months. It will be ready faster if you use your pitch fork and “turn it over” every week or two.

Julia Swanson, one of the more experienced organic growers I know, says that compost is like a chili or cake recipe. Everyone has their favorite approach and often swear by it. But if you google “composting youtube” you will learn of many approaches, most of which are probably pretty good.

Is it practical to use worms in home composting? Is this widely practiced? Why should I go out and get some worms?

Worms are great friends of a composter. They aerate the materials and when compost passes through a worm’s gut, there are three glands that secrete calcium carbonate which, when mixed with the compost, affords twice the amount of beneficial bacteria, nitrogen, calcium, and phosophorous. I also highly encourage your readers to google “worms youtube” and watch the great shows!

See more of papa’s urban farm here and here.

For a detailed guide to easy composting, read this archived article from Mother Earth News.

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One response to “easy guide to composting

  1. You know this is right up my alley. I just started my very own edible garden a few weeks ago. I’m growing arugula, eggplant, and beans. I recently took a class with Tara at Silverlake Farms here in LA and she spent a GOOD portion of the class talking about organic composting. I don’t know if I will do that for this growing season, but definitely next season.

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