Any herb gardener will benefit from adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil in order to grow plants well. One of the most popular and beneficial things to add is compost. Compost can be purchased at any garden supply center, but it is very easy (and less expensive) to make your own. Whether your garden is indoors or out, compost will help all your herbs grow better.
What is Composting?
The act of composting is putting organic materials in a pile or container, along with water. This pile is turned periodically and the beneficial bacteria will thrive. This creates high heat and breaks down the raw organic materials into a dark, rich, soil-like product. There will be no discernible original parts, and finished compost has a fresh, earthy odor.
How Much Compost Will I Need?
If you have a small indoor garden, you can simply create less compost. If you are growing your herbs outdoors, you can never have enough of this black gold. A nice idea for indoor composting is to buy a Rubbermaid-style tub that will fit under your kitchen sink and begin composting with earthworms. This is called vermiculture, and it is the perfect way to create compost for all your indoor herbs.
For larger amounts, you may want to contain your compost pile in a bin. These can be made of any material you have access to. We have used free wooden pallets with great results. Simply wire three pallets together and have the fourth side open for turning. These pallet bins are easy to move in the fall and contain enough room to easily stir the contents. There are many other styles of compost bins to choose from. You can spend hundreds of dollars buying a fancy version that is essentially a barrel with a handle to crank it around with. The choice is yours. Now, on to the ingredients needed for a healthy compost pile.
How Do I Make Compost?
Compost needs three essential ingredients in order for the magic to happen:
- Green material
- Brown material
- Sufficient moisture
Green material is high in nitrogen. It is usually what we refer to as kitchen scraps like coffee grounds, peelings, fruit cores and eggshells. Any kitchen waste that is not greasy or meat can be composted. Manure (not dog and cat waste — only barnyard animals), grass clippings, leaves and weeds are also green materials.
Brown material is high in carbon. Paper, sawdust, small branches and twigs and straw all fall into this category. You may not believe that the items have anything to offer your compost, but they certainly do. The ratio of nitrogen to carbon ideally works out to be equal parts of both for us on the farm. We use all of our stems and any part of the herbs that we are not going to save and what we clean out of the stalls in the goat barn as the majority of our brown and green material. Cornstalks and kitchen scraps also get added regularly. We never have enough compost, but every bit helps and we do not suffer from drought or standing water like some of our neighbors do.
Water is the final key ingredient in a thriving compost pile. Without moisture, your pile will take months to do anything, and if dry enough, will not break down at all. If your pile is too wet, it will smell and become slimy as the ratio of bad bacteria outweighs the good. You want it to remain damp but not dripping wet. If you do not get enough rainfall to suffice, dump a bucket over it once a week to keep things moving. You will know that your compost pile is right if it becomes hot in the middle. This is important to sterilize the compost and kill the weed seeds or bad diseases that may be there. The heat is your proof that the ratio is working for your compost pile.
What Else Do I Have To Do To My Compost Pile?
You will turn your pile from the outside in about once a week. This doesn't have to be anything major, simply shovel the outer portion of the pile towards the inside and continue moving in this way around the pile until you have rearranged it so that fresh compost is now exposed. This way, all the beneficial organisms can have a chance to work on all of the pile's ingredients.If your pile heats up, gets moisture and gets turned regularly, you should have dark, wonderful compost in about one to two month's time.
I Have Compost, Now What?
Use this fertile addition to any herbs you have, both indoors and out. Add it in large quantities in the spring to the soil you are going to plant in. Use it throughout the season to top off any soil that has become tamped down due to water runoff or settling. In the fall, break down your garden and put any parts of it that are not diseased back into a new compost pile to work all winter and you will have new compost to use the following spring.
Finally, remember that making compost is an ongoing hobby. It's not something you do in a week or two and then forget for a year. Keep an out of the way pile of this "black gold" going, and always have a place to recycle much of your household waste and turn it into something useful.