Monday, April 22, 2013

Compost by Ken Thompson

For Earth Day, Dorling Kindersley (DK) is celebrating all the good things that come from the Earth or live on the Earth by offering some discounts on books in its Earthly Pleasures boutique.

Compost offers information about composting, the different compost bins used, and what to do with the compost after when it's done. It also offers suggestions about how to recycle organic matter without a pile and how to feed your soil.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand it has lots of information about compost and what goes into making it. On the other, I think the author made composting a bit more complicated than it needs to be. His explanation of the carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) in various organic matter is detailed and important, but I think it really makes the whole process sound difficult. We've been composting for years with great success and other than making sure we have a good mixture of both "greens" and "browns", we don't give the ratio much, if any, thought.

I didn't love the overall presentation. At times the information was convoluted, repetitive, and/or contradictory. Also, I would have liked to see a clear step-by-step how-to guide on how to make compost that would help the beginner composter get a good start. It's probably all in the book, it's just not as clear and concise as it could have been.

Having said all of that, I learned some things that will no doubt help me make better compost. First, I didn't realize that oak leaves, which we have an abundance of, aren't great leaves for composting (too low in nitrogen and too high in carbon). So far, we haven't had a problem with them, but I'll keep an eye on the bins to ensure the leaves don't cause problems down the line. We've been using various leaves in our compost for over a decade, but oak leaves are relatively new for us. I didn't realize that all leaves were not created equal.

Second, I learned that waste paper can be composted. I sometimes throw tiny pieces of paper into the compost bin, but I hadn't thought of also throwing in full-sized sheets or cardboard, as in toilet paper rolls. I'm definitely going to add more of this and see how it works.

I really liked the green manure concept on page 174. Green manure is "...any crop deliberately grown for a few months and then killed to return the organic matter to the soil." I'm not sure how many people have the space for that or how many want to take up part of their garden for this type of crop, but it's an interesting idea. I'll have to look into it more.

Another interesting idea is to place the compost bin right in the vegetable garden. The soil under the bin will be enriched with the nutrients from the decaying organic matter. Moving it periodically will benefit the soil in various places. (The move can be done when the compost is ready). Also, with the bin in the garden, it's handy for adding garden waste to the compost pile and using the compost once it's finished.

The section on compost bins and piles was quite good. I particularly liked alternative bins, one made from straw bales, the other from old tires.

The book, written in the UK, doesn't cover harsh winters like we experience here on the Canadian Prairies. I hate to keep bringing this up for every gardening book I review, but to me it's important because that's where I live. (Even though it's not covered in the book, you can compost during the really cold winter months. We use black compost bins and while we can't turn the compost in winter, we continue to add to the pile even though it's frozen. In the fall, we make sure the bin is less than half filled so there will be room for all of the stuff we'll add during the winter. The freeze/thaw cycle that happens in the fall and again in the spring helps break down the organic matter. Once the pile is thawed, we turn it, adjust the moisture level as needed, and continue composting.)

The book also contains a table of contents, list of useful websites, and an index. The majority of the websites are UK based.

Recommended. Even though I had some problems with this book, it's still a worthwhile read for novice and veteran composters alike.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit DK's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

Compost by Ken Thompson, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756613419(Hardcover), 192p.

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