I recently was asked some questions about composting:
I’ve heard that you’re not supposed to add pine needles or oak leaves to your compost because they don’t break down quickly. If I chop them up before, can I compost them?
Chopping, shredding, or cutting materials that you put in your composter will help them break down faster. Pine needles and oak leaves, however, should be used as mulch and left out of your composter due to their pH levels – which can throw the whole mix out of whack.
Does covering your compost pile help or hinder the composting process?
Covering your compost pile with a tarp is a good idea for several reasons:
- It helps keep moisture and heat in (which can speed up the decomposition process)
- It helps keep rainwater/snow off the pile (which could make your mix too soggy, and could wash away the nutrients inside the compost)
Of course, it could get too moist under the tarp, and that tarp also impedes air-flow, so turning will need to be done more regularly. A good rotating composter negates these since the design of the composter addresses all these issues.
I’ve been told that I shouldn’t add “uncured” compost to an established vegetable garden, why is that?
The key there is “uncured”. If you’ve fully “cooked” your compost in a high-quality composter, the rich, black compost that comes out of it should be ready to use on your garden beds.
Notice I said “garden beds”, and not your garden. I only add compost to empty beds so I don’t risk “burning” my tender plants with rich compost. If you add a trowel or two of compost for every square foot immediately after you harvest whatever was growing in that spot, then mix it into the soil, you’ll reduce the likelihood that you’ll hurt your young plants with your super-rich compost.
Established plants (trees, shrubs, lawn, etc.) love having compost spread out as a top dressing underneath them.