When we have access to compost, it’s very simple to grow veganically. Anywhere that someone might use manure or other animal products, vegetable compost can be used to boost the plants. Compost can be used for seedlings, in backyard gardens, in container gardens, and in fields. The “black gold” of gardeners and farmers, compost has a complete nutrient profile that is well-balanced for the needs of plants. If we have enough compost, theoretically it’s the only form of added fertility that we need.
To have significant quantities of compost, we need to reclaim large amounts of organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, and follow the basic guidelines for successfully creating compost. The speed of decomposition and the quality of our compost will be affected by the ratio of carbon and nitrogen, how well the compost is aerated, and whether it is protected from the rain.
Balance of Carbon/Nitrogen, Browns/Greens
In order for your compost pile to decompose with relative speed and ease, it’s important to add a balance of carbon-rich materials and nitrogen-rich materials.
Why? Your compost pile is teeming with microorganisms who consume the organic matter and turn it into finished compost. For the microorganisms to accomplish this, they need a diet with an appropriate mix of carbon and nitrogen to meet their physiological needs.
“Greens” and “browns”
Nitrogen-rich materials are typically referred to as “greens”. These materials are soft and watery, like kitchen scraps, fresh grass clippings and rotting harvests.
Carbon-rich materials are typically referred to as “browns”. These materials are fibrous and drier, like straw, fallen leaves and cardboard.
|Straw||Weeds (not in seed)|
|Dry grass clippings||Fresh grass clippings|
|Chipped branch wood||Comfrey|
|Sawdust||Fresh garden waste|
A simple recipe with leaves
Home gardeners and many farmers have access to large quantities of leaves. Set aside a yearly supply in the autumn!
When leaves are your only “brown” material, the ratio is very simple: for every 1 volume of “green” materials like kitchen scraps and grass clippings that you add to your compost bin, cover it with 2 volumes of dry leaves.
Recipes with varied brown materials
Certain brown materials, particularly wood, cardboard, and newspaper, are very high in carbon. To strike a proper balance, you’ll need to add more green materials than brown materials to your compost pile.
*2 parts green to 1 part brown is typically a good ratio if you have varied brown materials (for example, a combination of straw, leaves and cardboard).
*if you’re only using brown materials that are extremely high carbon (such as sawdust), you’ll need to add significant amounts of green materials to create a proper balance.
Intuitive recipes and correcting imbalances
Observe your compost bin—look, smell, touch. You can manage your compost bin through observing it and responding to its needs. When you smell your compost bin, it may have a light odour of decomposition, but it shouldn’t be an overwhelming rotting smell. When you touch and squeeze the decomposing matter, it should be lightly humid: not dry, not dripping.
If you’ve added too many nitrogen-rich food scraps to your compost pile, it can become a stinky rotten mess, and much of the valuable nitrogen will be lost as ammonia gas. If your compost bin is wet and smelly, up the quantity of carbon-rich browns.
If you’ve added too many carbon-rich materials to your compost pile, there won’t be much action. The decomposition will be incredibly slow, and the decomposing matter may be fairly dry. If your compost bin is inactive, up the quantity of nitrogen-rich greens.