Compost for Healthy Soil

By Hedy Koski



Superior Outdoors


Composting is a virtually free way to achieve healthy soil through some of our waste that normally would end up in a landfill. The size of your compost pile depends on the amount of compost you want to create. For a great starter size, Thunder Bay residents can purchase composters at EcoSuperior. These composters are subsidized by the City of Thunder Bay to make them affordable. You will need proof of residency to purchase. If you have the room, a cost-effective build is using pallets. I recommend using pallets marked with HT (heat-treated). Do not use any old pallets stamped with MB—these pallets were treated with a toxic pesticide methyl bromide (MB), and although this hazardous treatment hasn’t been used in many years, the pallets may still be in circulation. Instructions on building compost bins are all over the internet. Building one will depend on your preference and ability. There are many methods of composting, but I want to make this process easy for all beginners and explain the way I have done it for years. Composting success is as simple as making lasagna: layers. The ingredients you need are greens, carbon, water, and air. Greens are your grass clippings, food scraps, coffee grounds, plant trimmings, etc. Carbon is your dried leaves, straw, small twigs, coffee filters, newspaper, cardboard, (no glossy print), wood shavings, or sawdust (avoid pressuretreated wood). Ideally, I try to have more carbon than greens, but I don’t want you to stress over it. But keep this in mind: the smaller the ingredient items are, the faster they can break down. A special ingredient you can add between the layers is a bit of garden soil, which contains microorganisms that will help the process along (you could also purchase a compost accelerator). This is a vegan lasagna, so no items containing dairy, fat, or oil in the compost heap, or it will smell bad and attract animals. Layer the green and carbon items. After you have built your layers, mix it up a bit, add water to moisten the pile, and within a few days, the heat in your compost bin will build, possibly reaching above 100°F. This is an indication that decay is taking place at a fast rate, and the pile will shrink rapidly. I use a compost thermometer and watch its progress; once I notice the temperature drop, I mix it up again, which incorporates more air to the pile. I also add water if needed—thus getting the material from the outside edges where decomposition is slower and bringing it to the centre—and sometimes add more ingredients, and then watch the temperature rise again. Pretty fascinating. Care must be taken when building the pile that it be moist but not wet to promote proper aerobic activity. You may choose to cover your compost pile; if you do, don’t forget to add water if needed. A good mix of oxygen and moisture is required for the microorganisms to do their job and break down the organic material. You will know when your compost is ready to add to your garden when it resembles and smells like soil. Remember to keep some compost that is rich in microbes to start the next batch. Compost-rich garden soil is a good environment for earthworms, which themselves will enrich the soil with their castings.