How can Garden Fertilizer be produced at Home by Composting?

Nature creates fertile topsoil by decomposing organic matter. This simple process can be reproduced artificially through the scientific technique of composting. The basic idea behind the production of compost is to accumulate organic material which has no other beneficial use, and which in fact can be harmful if left untreated, and transform that material into nutrients to be returned to the earth as a potent fertilizer. This transformation is ecologically beneficial, as it decreases the amount of organic refuse in garbage, and thus reduces the total quantity of material delivered to the landfills and dumps that receive that garbage. It is also useful economically, in that it provides one of the essential ingredients of agriculture (fertilizer) at a minimum of cost.

Composting is actually an integral stage of effective Solid Waste Management (SWM), which includes the separation, collection and processing (as well as commercialization, in many cases) of some of the residues of human civilization. Whether performed on the level of an entire city, an isolated neighborhood, or a single household, the separation of waste should result in three types of material: organic substances (peels and other unused parts of plant food products, as well as leaves and grass clippings from lawn care); recyclable solids left over from industrial and commercial processes (plastic bags and bottles, glass, paper, cardboard, aluminum, iron, and other metals); and objects which have no more practical utility in our present society. The first group, organic residue, can pass through the composting process to become excellent fertilizer.

The second group can be sold or donated to recycling institutions, which segregate each specific type of material for accumulation and sales to industries that employ these used products to manufacture new packaging and other mass produced articles. The third group, rejected and (at present) useless materials, usually end up being buried in a landfill. As our society accepts more responsibility for its leftovers, we may one day find that, with a little creativity and integrated planning, this last category may disappear completely.

To transform organic wastes into a nutrient-rich component for soil management, on whatever social scale is being considered, the first step is to arrange an adequate space where this material can be gathered and processed. The collection of organic waste can be conducted on the home level by simply putting a small covered recipient in a corner of the kitchen, which receives scraps from the preparation of food. Leftovers from meals can also be used, although some specialists recommend that animal products not be included, with the exception of eggshells. The separated refuse should then be piled in a location where animals will not molest it, such as a small fenced corner of the yard. This installation can be covered to permit humidity control if located in a rainy climate.

Ideally, the organic material should be accumulated in alternating layers of wet and dry plant remains (kitchen scraps, then leaves and grass, or manure from herbivorous animals) to a height of about one meter and a diameter of around two meters. This covered area helps to allow natural humidity control, one of the basic variables of healthy decomposition and an integral part of the composting procedure. With too little moisture, the micro-organisms necessary for conducting the decaying process will not proliferate, while an excess of water leads to undesirable types of rot. The humidity should be maintained at around 40-60%.

Another important aspect of the composting technique is aeration. Decomposition in an aerobic environment (exposed to oxygen) is faster than the anaerobic process (isolated from air), and also diminishes the production of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, as well as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which cause the decaying material to stink. This aeration is achieved by the periodic mixing and turning of the pile of organic substances, to let the inner layers have contact with the air. With a hoe or pitchfork, remix each pile every 3-4 days. The entire process lasts about 90 days, or even less in warmer climates.

Still another factor in composting is the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C/N), which basically means using plant material that is not too dense. Avoid sawdust, woodchips or small tree branches, which take too long to decay.

A fourth detail is the conscientious control of the types of bacteria used in the compost piles. The right bacteria aid in the speed and completeness of the decomposition process. By introducing cultures already started naturally in rotting leaves or orange peels, for example, the composting reacts better. Lactic acid bacteria (from fermented milk or yogurt) avoid rot in the piles. But even without the intentional selection of external bacteria, the organic material itself will usually promote the growth of sufficient micro-organisms to transform garbage into soil.

After completion, some people include an additional stage, where earthworms are introduced into the compost to produce humus, a better grade of garden soil. With or without this final touch, the soil produced by home composting is sufficient to fertilize a small garden. Through collective community projects, it's even possible to generate enough fertilizer for larger plantations, or for selling to local agriculturalists.

Author: David Michael (Teres'polis, Brazil)

Recommended Resources

How to make compost - Making your own compost-Watch Youtube Video

A Homeowner's Guide to Fertilizer:Understanding the Fertilizer Label

Miracle-Gro Expand 'n Gro Concentrated Enriched Compost 18 Litres

A Review on Amazon: I brought this for my mum, she is an avid Gardner. She says this is the best compost she has ever used and will no longer use anything else. My seeds and potted plants grew well in this enriched compost.

How to Make and Use Compost: The Ultimate Guide?

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice