Like any good gardener I have a pile of rotting roughage off in the far corner of my property. Out of respect, we call it a compost bin. There in lies all things foul and stinky: barn muck, stall crud, coop poop, gross egg shells, leaves, moldy hay- you get the picture. In order to become a bit more respectable in the department of garden knowledge, I have taken a few classes on compost.
Proper compost bears no foul odor, is not compacted, and has a healthy green-to-brown ratio. Not only do leaves, bark, and pine needles go in, but there needs to be a hearty does of veggie debris, grass or yard clippings, and the like. Compost needs to be damp; watered regularly to keep moisture at a proper level. There must be stirring or turning of the bin or pile to encourage heat distribution and adequate break down of debris. Who knew?
Okay, so I don't have the best practices when it comes to my compost pile- I have never turned it, water only happens when rain comes, and uh, no veggies or grass clippings have ever graced the bin. Whoops! Moving on..
Compost should be added to gardens areas yearly in colder climates or twice a year in warm, southern climates (mine). Once a season ends, working a hearty helping of compost into the plot replenishes nutrients preparing the soil to support new plantings. Flower beds or beds already planted will benefit from some side dressing or top composting- simply placing a light layer of compost around the base of your plants offers them a nice boost of nutrition.
Okay, I did get that one right. Our soil is worked over between plantings and often side dressed while plants are in the ground. Compost tea is a great vitamin shot for hearty plants, flowers, and sturdy herbs (don't do it when you are about to harvest and never spray it on lettuce! Think ecoli.)
The reality is- there is a lot of advice about compost- some is experience based and some is research based. My practice falls somewhere in the middle. The intention of my garden and compost is to do the best I can with what I have and the time I have to do it in. There is always room to improve!
A few side notes:
Never add fats or animal protein- that will make a rancid mess and attract unwelcome pests.
Egg shells are excellent for adding calcium to the mix.
There are accelerators/activators on the market to hurry up the decomp process.
Worms are always a welcome sign of healthy compost.