What is compost?
Composting allows you to turn trash into treasure by creating a valuable soil amendment from stuff you would ordinarily just throw away.
It helps reduce how much trash we are sending to landfills while also recycling nutrients here in the Tualatin River basin.
By keeping food scraps out of our garbage disposals and sewer system, the amount of nutrients and solids that need to be removed from waste water is also reduced.
The US Composting Council offers these 5 simple reasons to aim for 5% organic matter in your soil through use of compost:
1. Compost improves soil structure and porosity.
2. Compost increases moisture infiltration and permeability; reducing bulk density in heavy soils while also improving the moisture holding capacity of light soils. Together with reason #1, these factors improve the ability of water and nutrients to reach plant roots while also preventing soils from eroding.
3. Compost supplies organic matter – click the link to learn from NRCS why this matters (hint: it has to do with nutrients too).
4. Compost allows plants to more effectively utilize nutrients, while reducing nutrient loss by leaching. In the Tualatin River Watershed, this means less phosphorus and the soils on which it is carried enters our streams and river!
5. Compost supplies beneficial microorganisms to soils.
Composting is a great classroom or home activity for families and children. Cornell University has a great resource on composting in schools to help get you started.
Students learn about:
- soil structure
- nutrient cycles
- soil ecology
There are many different compost systems available to the home composter. This list is far from inclusive, but it should get you connected to some resources to start. Check back frequently for updates and new ideas!
Composting with worms (or by its more formal name, vermiculture) is a process that uses red worms in a container to process compostable material into nutrient rich compost composed of worm castings (called vermicompost).
A good place to start: Metro’s guide to vermiculture
Single Bin Composter
This method minimizes complexity with one pile, often contained in a pre-designed home system like the tumbler offered by Metro.
Open Air Composting: Hot or Cold
These are the methods most folks have in mind when they think of the compost pile. Care needs to be taken to balance the green and brown (vegetative and nutrient) material in the pile, as well as to turn the pile to keep it properly aerated. Reaching critical temperatures to kill bacteria and weed seed is desirable, although the District recommends AGAINST composting weeds to avoid problems down the road.
A few more good resources…
How to Get Started on the Farm
- Spread less than 1-inch of compost, 2 to 4 times a year, when plants are growing; March to September
- Pile compost on concrete and keep covered
- Keep compost piles or bins away from rainfall, streams, and run-off collection areas
- Turn compost to add air, at least 4 to 5 times per month
- Allow compost to “cook” an average of 6 months or until mature
- Maintain compost at 50% moisture so that it feels like a wrung-out sponge
- Compost that is too wet stinks; too dry = slow compost
Links to composting know-how:
Tualatin SWCD is available to provide free technical assistance to home composters, small acreage farms, and large scale agriculture on manure and compost management – contact us below for more information.
Have you seen our ManureLink page? This is an excellent resource for finding free nutrient rich material for your compost pile year round, or for sharing the livestock manure you have available.