Soil Sense

1 Composting Hints, FAQs and Best Pratices

By Terri Petersen and Gary Strehlow

Terri Peterson and Gary Strehlow own Nueva Tierra de Osa and make their composts, Worm Gardens, and other organic products in the shade of their 17 hectares of rain forest in Los Pargos. They also offer school and community programs and on-site and remote compost consulting services. Tico Pet Veterinary offers some of their products in Puerto Jimenez. They can be reached at and welcome visitors to their small operation.



As promised in the last edition of Soil Sense, here we are sharing more Hints, FAQs, and Best Practices for you to employ in becoming an expert in making your own rich awesome compost. But first we would like to announce we will host a Compost Training Workshop at our compost center in Los Pargos de Osa. Come join us or send your employees to learn first-hand the compost-making process.

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We hope you can join us . . . and now for more compost advice!

Bosque compost workshop 1

Bosque compost workshop

FAQ:  What style of compost bin should I use?

That’s a hard question to answer as it’s really about personal preference, location, budget and time management. There are some fancy and expensive compost bins designs and there are super simple designs. Cornell University’s excellent website has a document with 10 different designs, materials lists and construction tips:  You can choose to start simple and inexpensive or go for the Cadillac system right up front. Remember to take into account our Osa rainforest impacts on materials (rot and rust). No matter what design you settle on, follow the same guidance from our earlier articles as far as how to make the compost pile.

FAQ:  How do I know how much water I need to add to my compost pile?

As we’ve already stressed before, the compost pile must provide all the necessary requirements for the billions of microorganisms working in your pile. Water is certainly one of these and needs to be distributed throughout the entire pile so all organisms remain in a moist environment. To accomplish this we recommend that when you are building your pile that you water each layer of organic material that you add. Use a spray nozzle and wet all corners, sides and the middle. Your pile should be located on a level or slightly sloped dirt floor so that excess water can flow off as needed.  (Hint: slope the floor away from your working area).

Once your pile is ‘cooking’ it can also lose moisture in the process, especially if you are located in a particularly windy or sunny spot. Each time you turn the pile check the moisture level by grabbing a handful of the material and squeezing it. If you can squeeze out a little water, like a wrung out sponge, that is the optimum moisture level. If when you go to turn the contents of the pile you hear a crunch crunch in the materials, it’s too dry, so add more water by spraying it down with a hose nozzle. Just remember composting will not happen in a dried out environment. If the materials are drippy wet, just add some dry leaves or shredded paper to that area. Anaerobic (without air) composting can happen when the materials are too moist, producing organisms and/or pathogens that you don’t want in your compost.

Best Practice: Inoculating your compost pile with beneficial microorganisms

Generally speaking nature is pretty self-sufficient and the organisms you need in your compost pile will come from the ground and the organic materials you use to make it.  Still, it is a good practice to help the process along and ‘kick-start’ it by inoculating it with desirable organisms. The easiest way to accomplish this is to add a shovel full of good dirt or previously made compost every few layers as you are building the pile. These extra organisms will go right to work.

Note: Many people are aware of the availability of ‘Ems’ or populations of beneficial organisms that can be purchased and added to your system. These can help as well, though youdon’t really need them if you are doing the process correctly, and we think they are often over-used when not really necessary. We never use them at all and make what we think is the BEST thermal compost around!

This leads me to another FAQ . . .

FAQ: Should I add calcium, ashes, lime, molasses or other additives to my compost pile?

We always say yes, of course you can add them, but in small quantities. Adding too much will result in a material that is altered dramatically in its pH and may not be great for what you are growing. Some people are looking for a more acidic or more alkaline compost for specific cultivations, and these additives can help. But generally adding other ‘compounds’ can create more issues than benefits. Remember Nature has a pretty good system in place, so apply caution if you’re not sure what it is you are aiming for.

Yellow trumpet

Yellow trumpet

Best Practice: Using your compost

Once you have finished and rested AWESOME compost, you can now use or store it.

  • Add to and mix into existing plant beds, potted plants, garden soil, or even spread over your lawn
  • Use when planting a new plant or tree by making a hole 2 times as deep and 2 times as wide as the plant and planting it in a mixture of 50% soil and 50% compost.
  • In summer, add a 2-3 inch thick layer over plants that are susceptible to drying out. This will retain moisture in the soil – saves on watering too!
  • Grow seeds and small plants in bags of 50% compost and 50% good soil
  • Give as a gift to your gardener friends! They’ll love it!


Nueva Tierra de Osa also offers on-site composting workshops to train you or your staff how to make compost.  As always if you have any questions about composting or the articles, please contact us at, telephone:  8721-4323, and be sure to visit us on Facebook at Nueva Tierra de Osa.  Stay tuned for next edition, when we shall share how to use our friendly invertegrate—the worm—to turn garbage into the very best compost on the entire planet!

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