New insights into compost by Colette McKinnon

Harris Ivens, Plant Biologist of Grounded Business Solutions offers workshop participants new insights into compost

On a beautiful fall Saturday morning at Lakeside Community Gardens, Harris Ivens, from Grounded Business Solutions, a plant biologist and expert in the field, shared his approach to composting.

People with varying levels of gardening experience were on hand to listen, learn and begin a compost pile. As a novice gardener, I have done my best to summarize the key points below in a format familiar to many of us, and hopefully practical and covering the key points.

What is compost

Think of compost as free fertilizer! You take organic material such as kitchen scraps, garden debris, coffee grounds and leaves grass trimmings, build a pile and add a couple of magic ingredients that help beneficial bacteria, fungi, worms and other organisms to turn it into a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Compost ingredients

  • 1 part green matter (chop up large pieces using shovel as you add). Greens include vegetable and food scraps, fresh grass clippings and yard waste, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells (dry & grind eggshells).
  • 5 to 10 parts brown matter (chop up using shovel as you add). Browns include dried leaves, grass, mulch or hay, cardboard rolls, sawdust, shredded newspaper, hair, fur, clean paper and wool or cotton rags.
  • Magic ingredient: a generous sprinkling of soil (< 1 part). Soil has the microbes (soil fauna) that will do the work as well as the minerals your plants need to be healthy!!! Soil also helps ensure your compost pile stores carbon rather than releases it to the atmosphere.
  • Water: Generous supply of water. You can leave the hose running as you build the pile.

How to build a compost pile

  1. Collect and store brown material to use as needed.
  2. Plan the location of your compost pile. Ideally it should be in a sheltered area, say under a tree or near a hedge, to retain moisture and so microbes can migrate over into the compost pile.
  3. There should be space to be able to turn the pile it at least once.
  4. Start the pile with a layer of sticks or woody plant stems like sunflower or corn stalks heavy-duty stems to allow continuous air-flow (oxygen is another magic composting ingredient)
  5. Begin to build your compost pile in the ratio described above
  6. Depending on the height of your pile, you can occasionally layer in additional woody material to keep oxygen flowing
  7. Ensure a good soaking of water. You should be able to pick up a handful of material from anywhere in the pile and when you squeeze it, get about one drop of water. (Water is a distribution highway for microbes in the compost).
  8. Monitor the pile: Continue to add water periodically as needed.- Conduct the “smell test”. Place a stick into the middle of your pile. If it stinks it should be turned. (Turning helps redistribute the microorganisms that are doing all the decomposing)
  9. Your compost is done when there are no more earthworms and your “smell test” come out sweet

Composting tips

  • To avoid attracting rodents make your compost pile unattractive to them by chopping up and spreading out any food that may entice them and keeping your compost pile in “good working order.” Encourage decomposition as described above.
  • To manage excessive flies, add more soil
  • To help retain moisture (the soil microbiology need moisture to do their work) cover with an old “ratty” tarp, that allows water and air flow
  • If your compost is high in carbon because of where, when and how it was built and you think it needs additional nitrogen, mix a nitrogen source like bone meal into the finished compost and then let it sit for a few days, making sure it’s well watered and covered with the “ratty tarp” mentioned above to let the soil biology go to town on them
  • To manage weeds which may remain viable in your compost, mulch after applying your compost with woodchips or straw.
Microbes hard at work

Note: If you are working with manure, weeds or other pathogens, heat will be important to creating a healthy compost. This process requires a more complex approach

And the most important tip of all

And one final tip from Harris:

“there are really no rules to composting except that it smells good and you are having fun!”

~Harris Ivens

Work bee, planting day & potluck

Workbee is Sunday October 27th

We’ll meet at Lakeside on Sunday October 27 from 10:00 am until approximately noon (or until we’re tired) to prepare the ground for planting day.

What’s we’ll be doing during the workbee

  • Preparing mounds & moats for our apple trees (we’ll give you the scoop on why we’re creating mounds during the workbee)
  • Wrapping hardware cloth around the 8 fruit trees already planted to protect them from critters over the winter
  • Creating a new path & second fruit tree circular planting area

Compost workshop

And remember we have a compost workshop on Saturday October 26 with compost expert Harris Ivens. Learn the secrete ingredient to creating amazing homemade fertilizer for home or garden.

Planting day Saturday November 9th

Saturday November 9, 10:00 am – noon (rain date, Sunday November 10, 10:00 am – noon)

What we’ll plant:

  • 11 apple trees (each a different variety)
  • 2 sweet chestnuts
  • 2 grape vines (which we’ll prune after we plant)
  • aronia berries, haskap berries, blackcurrants, goji berries and schisandra vine (5 flavour berry), gooseberry
  • nuts!
  • black & honey locusts (to feed our fruit trees)

Then we’ll eat:

After we’re done planting, we’ll celebrate over a meal at 764 Meadowood Road in Collins Bay. We’ll have enough vegetarian soup and spelt sourdough bread for everyone, but if you’re able to contribute a potluck dish, bring it with you.

Thank you to our supporters!

  • Canadian Tire on Princess Street for the 30 shrubs and the plums, cherries and pears
  • Rideau 1000 Island Master Gardeners for the 11 apple trees
  • Burt’s Greenhouse for the strawberries and herbs
  • Riley’s for the grapes and gooseberry

New insights into compost: workshop

great compost is teaming with soil fauna

Think you have to keep turning your compost pile to make great compost? Think again… composting is easier than you thought!

Learn how to make your own great compost rich in beneficial microorganisms and nutrients. 

Have you always wanted to compost but not sure of the dos & don’ts? Learn from an expert! Join Harris Ivens, Plant Biologist of Grounded Business Solutions to learn how to create rich fertilizer for your garden.

We’ll introduce you to the missing ingredient from most compost piles, talk a bit about soil biology, and cover ways of increasing the rodent resistance of your compost pile.

Care for the soil. Care for Earth. 

Part of a workshop series sponsored by Lakeside Community Garden’s Forest Garden. You’ll also get to see our fledgling food forest and learn how you can get involved. A Master Gardener from Rideau Thousand Islands Master Gardeners will also be on site to answer general gardening questions. 

Workshop details

When: Saturday October 26th from 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Where: Lakeside Community Garden (next to Centre 70)

What to bring: We’ll build a compost pile during the workshop so please bring gloves. And please save your kitchen waste and bring it with you. We’ll need the kitchen waste for a high nitrogen layer.

Cost: FREE, but donations to help us purchase fruit trees for a food forest are appreciated!

About Harris Ivens

Harris Ivens completed a masters degree in biology comparing plant and soil microbial responses to changes in water and nutrient availability. He is a past faculty member of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at Fleming College and provides farm business, biological soil and plant management consulting. Harris has been consulting for organic and conventional farming operations since 2010.