Green Composts

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Green composts differ from brown composts in that they are newer dead plant material.

Examples of green compost include freshly clipped grass clippings from the lawn, green leaves, stems or other green plant anatomy, kitchen scraps, etc. The main point is that green composts are newer composts.

Unlike brown composts, green composts are not as nitrogen-poor and therefore do not run into the same decomposition problems that brown composts have. Keep in mind that green composts can lose nitrogen with time and become brown composts.

Remember, the only real difference between brown and green composts it time. For this reason, green composts are best applied to the garden soon after they are collected. Adding and mixing in green composts straight into garden soil also helps to prevent attracting flies and other critters, and it also diminishes the smelliness associated with freshly rotting plant material.

What do you do if you have green compost but no available garden space to put it in? For example, you may have grass clippings from mowing your lawn but during the summer your garden is in full swing so you obviously can’t mix the grass clippings into your garden soil. There are two things you can do. (1) Spread the green compost on top of the soil in your garden around your plants like a mulch and (2) make a compost pile.

If you opt to spread it in your garden and let it compost in place, be aware that it may smell a bit (or a lot). If you put it in a compost pile, you can keep it well away from your house (and neighbors), but then you’ll need to turn it.

Spreading either green or brown compost on top of your garden soil during the growing season creates a mulch that helps to smother weeds and preserve soil moisture. At the end of the season, or after a harvest when plants are done producing their crop, simply till in the green compost mulch to incorporate the organic matter into the soil. Because the green compost may sit on the soil surface for a while before being incorporated into the soil, it will age, and like we’ve already talked about from above, aged or older compost is brown compost.

If your green compost turns yellow and becomes brown compost before you have a chance to till it in, it’s not a big deal, just treat it like a brown compost. You could either let it continue to compost on top of the soil as a mulch, or simply supply some additional nitrogen when you till it into the soil. You’ll have to make that judgment call, depending on how ‘brown’ or ‘green’ it is.

Compost piles are a great way to go if green compost mulching is not something you’re interested in or if you have so much green compost that adding any more mulch to your garden would suffocate or bury your plants.

Making and maintaining a compost pile is a total snap. It doesn’t really matter what you use as a container for your compost pile whether it’s a wood bin, one of those fancy commercial tumbler type compost bins, or simply heap in the corner of your yard. What’s more important is how you manage your compost pile. Compost piles need three things to thrive: (1) plenty of air, (2) moisture, and (3) a handful of soil.

Compost piles need to be aerated on a regular basis. The more aerobic the compost pile is the more alive it is. Remember that the microbes that breakdown the compost need, like you and I, to breathe. A good indication that your compost pile is in desperate need of air is when it begins to stink. The foul smell associated with rotting organic matter is an indication that anaerobic conditions exist within the pile.

If you don’t have one of the tumbler type compost bins, simply use a pitch-fork to mix up and get fresh air back inside the pile. If you don’t have a pitch fork you can use any standard shovel but a pitch fork works best. Keeping a compost pile well aerated will decrease smelliness and also attract fewer flies. And it will help your compost to decompose more quickly!

Compost piles need to remain moist. The key word here is moist, not soaking wet or bone dry, just moist. Microbes need a drink while they’re hard at work in your compost pile but give them too much water and they’ll suffocate and drown, and then the compost pile will become anaerobic like I talked about above.

Depending on where you live, you may never have to worry about watering your compost pile because Mother Nature will provide moisture for you as rain. If you live in an arid part of the world you will need to get out the garden hose from time to time and water the compost pile. After watering a compost pile, or after a rain shower, it is a good idea to use a pitch fork and mix up the compost pile to evenly distribute that moisture.

Adding a handful of soil to a compost pile may seem like a strange thing to do but let me tell you why it’s a recommended procedure for compost piles. Soil, particularly good garden soil, contains billions of microbes that will feed on and breakdown dead plant material. Adding a handful of soil to your compost pile, therefore, functions as an inoculating agent to make sure that there are plenty of these soil microbes in your compost pile.

Now, truth be told, it’s likely that these microbes are already in your compost pile in abundance but just to make sure, it’s a good idea to throw in a handful of soil to make sure your compost pile is inoculated with tons microbes.

Inasmuch as I have talked about compost piles from the angle of green composts, brown composts can also be added to a compost pile. Just remember that brown composts are nitrogen poor so if your compost pile doesn’t already have a lot of other organic matter in it that is more nitrogen-rich be sure to add a little nitrogen to help the microbes in the break down process.

Like brown composts, green composts can often be acquired for little or no additional cost. Don’t throw away your kitchen scraps, compost them. If you have a lawn that has to be mowed, you might as well save the grass clippings and put them in your garden.

One additional thing I should mention about green composts, particularly grass clippings. If you use weed and feed fertilizers, dandelion weed killers, or any lawn care chemical that is labeled as lawn-weed killing or controlling, you cannot use those grass clippings in your garden – or at least not immediately. Dandelion killers or weed and feeds contain herbicides.

Fresh grass clippings that are lased with herbicides is obviously not a good thing to put into your garden. Fortunately, the primary chemical used to kill weeds in lawns will dissipate with time. So you can use grass clippings from lawns that have had weed-control chemicals put on them but put them in the compost pile not the garden directly. And see to it that the compost pile will be mixed frequently and stand for several months before being applied to your garden.

Be sure to check out our podcasts on different types of organic matter and their uses in the garden.

Vermicompost and No-Till Gardening 

Organic Matter 

Brown Composts

Brown Manures

Green Manures

Top 12 Gardening Mistakes

 and Peat Moss as a Source of Organic Matter

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