Be Green 2: Composting

Compost piles at the University of Hawaii

Getting your garden to grow beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables may be easier than you think.

These compost piles are part of an ongoing project conducted by the University of Hawaii Manoa. But putting a compost pile together is more than a matter of leaving yard clippings in the corner of the yard.

“There’s a lot more to it than that. However, if there’s a term that I’ve enjoyed more than any other, it’s ‘compost happens’,” says compost guru Shawn Bell.

Sounds like a bumper sticker, doesn’t it? Shawn and his colleagues monitor the activity of these different piles – the one with the sprinkler going is called a thermal pile. That’s where the action really begins.

“Because it’s going to use heat to compost and and it’s aerobic. It’s using microorganisms to break down organic matter into inorganic matter. Inorganic matter is what plants need to uptake, that’s their nutrients,” Bell says.

The reason the piles of compost must be turned every so often is so that the microorganisms can do their work – which is essentially ‘breathing.’

“They are respiring. They use oxygen, turn it into carbon dioxide. One of the reasons that we have pitchforks, we go and we turn our piles. We need to aerate them so that they have their oxygen and they’ll live,” Bell explains.

About halfway through the process, the compost guru puts in food scraps left over from the UH campus center cafeteria. Ultimately, once the process is completed, you end up with a fine substance that Shawn says does a fine job.

Normally, these piles are turned every other day or so – – because they’re big.

“When I do my home garden, I would turn them every two weeks, or every week, depending on how much time I had. You can go from this step right here from food waste and mulch and turn it into compost in 4 weeks, six weeks,” he says.

Bell and his colleagues are doing hard work – and researching plant growth with compost added. And as he said, compost happens. Geobunga is holding workshops in Salt Lake and Waimanalo this Saturday.

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