Ocean Friendly Gardens
January 02 2010

Composting, Compost Bins & Compost Tea

by Paul Herzog

Composting What Can be Composted From The Surfrider Foundation forthcoming "Ocean Friendly Gardens Manual" (OFG manual), Chapter 13:

First, a note on fertilizers - The nutrient-rich water running off fertilized residential properties poses a significant threat to the health of our ocean. Primarily composed of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and iron this runoff causes the rapid growth of harmful algae. Organic fertilizers are promoted over chemicals, because they build the soil, rather than degrading it, which in turn increases porosity and the ability of the landscape to hold more rain water - all of which decreases the chances of run-off.

Materials in a home that can be added to a compost pile:

Aquarium Water: Straight from the fish tank to the garden, aquarium water is high in nitrogen and phosphorus.

Bone Meal: High in phosphorus, bone meal supports flower production, and helps deter some pests, such as ants. Clean the bones from steak or fish, dry them in a microwave, crush them with a mallet in a bag, and then spread and scratch the powder into the soil.

Catch / Infiltration Basin Sludge: Catch basins and retention areas will eventually fill with sediment and debris, and will need to be cleaned out. This sediment is loaded with a variety of nutrients and can either be mixed right into a planter beds or added to a compost pile.

Coffee Grounds: This abundant and often-discarded resource is a good source of nitrogen and can be used as light mulch. When added to compost piles, coffee grounds also help produce nitrogen-rich humus. If asked, local coffee houses will typically give a customer their used grounds. Coffee grounds should be composted.

Compost: Along with the debris produced from a landscape, an actively working compost pile can absorb a variety of oddities, such as hair and catch-basin sludge.

Eggshells: Containing a large amount of calcium and moderate amount of nitrogen, eggshells can either be scattered directly over a landscape, or put in a compost pile.

Feathers: While not an abundant resource unless there is a bird in a house, or the property has a cat, feathers are an excellent source of nitrogen. This resource should be composted.

Grass Clippings: The debris created from mowing a lawn is a perfect high-nitrogen fertilizer if it is cured in a compost pile first. Scattering freshly cut grass over soil does not work as well, because if it is not kept moist then the sun will chemically break them down and they will be blown off the property; on the other hand, if the clippings are kept too moist, they may produce an acidic barrier on top of the soil. Hair: Human and pet hair is rich in iron, manganese, and sulphur. Hair is best used as an additive in a compost pile, but when used as mulch it can help deter larger pests, such as some rodents and birds.

Kitchen Scraps: Kitchen scraps of vegetables and fruits make some of the richest composts. Kitchen scraps are fleshy, moist, and loaded with nutrients, which speeds the decomposition process and time required to turn the scraps into compost and humus (which is the most decomposed part of a compost pile, possessing the most available nutrients). Tea bags, coffee grounds, crushed and dry dog food, and eggshells can be thrown into this mix. These high-activity compost piles do not require a lot of room, just an area comparable to an old bathtub; yet they provide an excellent source of readily available nutrients. Kitchen scraps are typically high in phosphorus and potassium, but low in nitrogen (unlike animal products).

Tea Grounds: An abundant resource in many homes and coffee houses. Tea grounds have a moderate amount of nitrogen and low amounts of phosphorus and potassium. This resource should be composted.

Wood Ashes: Completely cooled and dispersed straight from the fireplace to the garden beds, wood ashes are high in potassium, with minor amounts of phosphorus, which is perfect for flowering and fruiting plants. Ashes are a good addition to the compost pile.

Composting Workshops - You city may conduct them. 

Compost Bins - Cities sell them, often at their composting workshops. There are a broad variety http://www.composters.com/compost-bins.php?gclid=CLSymq65ipoCFRMUagodSTdbFg Earth Maker http://www.earthmaker.co.nz/cms/index.php?page=user-guide Spinning Composter http://www.gaiam.com/product/eco-home-outdoor/outdoor/composting/spinning+composter.do Tumble Weed Compost Tumbler http://www.compostguide.com/Tumbleweed-Compost-Tumbler-Bin-p/200003.htm

Compost Tea From OFG Manual, Chapter 13: "Compost Tea: An organic concoction that concentrates nutrients in a liquid form. Useful in overcoming degraded areas and supporting productive landscapes. Tea is made by filling a permeable bag, like nylon stocking or burlap bag, with compost (generally made from worm castings, manures, and/or grass clippings) and setting the bag in a large bucket of water. The tea takes frequent stirring, or mechanical aeration, and about 2 days of seeping."

Grow a Green Manure Crop From the OFG manual, Chapter 6: "Sow Green Manure: There are a variety of plants that are particularly good at improving degraded soils, called green manures. These plants include those that can fixate nitrogen, like clover and vetch, and those that are tough and vigorous, such as alfalfa, millet and rye. These plants are seeded and once they have a hold of landscape they are tilled into the soil and allowed to decompose. The area will be ready for planting 3 months after tilling."