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Composting

What is Composting?

 

 Composting is Mother Nature’s way of recycling organic waste matter and turning it into useable nutrition for all plants. Imagine if leaves, grasses, sticks, etc. didn’t break down. The piles would be taller than the trees themselves! When we compost, we’re turning kitchen and yard waste into dark, nutrient-rich, earth-smelling soil conditioner. 

Why Should I Compost?

 

  Composting is an easy, practical way to handle your yard and kitchen wastes. The end product is one of the best ways to improve both garden and lawn soil and add nutrients to shrubs, trees, flowers, etc. Composting saves you money by reducing the volume of trash sent to landfills and not needing to purchase chemical fertilizers for the garden.

 

Food scraps and food-soiled paper make up more than one-third of the garbage households produce. Instead of sending your food scraps to the landfill where they create methane, a potent greenhouse gas, turn your food scraps into compost!

What Can I Compost?

 

  One third of our household garbage can be composted! Yard wastes such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, weeds before they seed, and the remains of disease-free garden plants, make excellent compost. Kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells and coffee grounds are great for composting. Shredded newspaper and copy paper can also be composted (leave out glossy printed material).

Compostable materials are categorized into two main groups, commonly referred to as brown and green.  A compostable material is considered brown if it is high in carbon.  Compostable material is considered green if it is high in nitrogen.  It is the balance of these two elements that will dictate how well the compost breaks down and whether or not nutrient-rich soil is produced.

Certain items should not be composted for a variety of reasons.  It's not that these materials won't break down and rot eventually but they may not break down completely, may attract unwanted pests, or may create unpleasant odors.  Some of these items may also carry unhealthy pathogens.  Avoid using these materials in your compost.

WHAT SHOULD BE COMPOSTED

  • Leaves, pine needles (Brown)

  • Dry grass (Brown)

  • Weeds (before going to seed) (Green)

  • Garden plants, soft stem plants (Green)

  • Fruit & vegetable matter (Green)

  • Egg shells (crushed) (Green)

  • Tea bags, coffee grounds & filters (Green)

  • Vacuum bag contents, pet & human hair (Brown)

  • Shredded paper (Brown)

WHAT SHOULD NOT BE COMPOSTED

Meats, fats, bones

Dairy products

Cooking oil

Wet grass

Pet waste

How Do I Compost?

 

  Determine where you will place your compost pile(s) - preferably where you can easily access it to add material. 

 

Set up your bin either by purchasing a pre-made bin at a hardware or garden center or make your own!  A homemade compost bin can be made from small-mesh wire fencing, snow fencing, wood pallets, or scrap wood.  The best size is 3 feet by 3 feet.

Now just start adding a mix of brown and green material (see examples under "What Can I Compost?").  Add water so the pile is as wet as a well-wrung sponge.  That's it!  Nature will take care of breaking down the ingredients, which can take up to a year.  If you would like to speed up the process, simply turn the pile with a garden fork to aerate it.  The more frequently the pile is turned, the faster it will decompose.

Compost is ready when you no longer recognize the original ingredients.  The result should be a dark, crumbly product that smells "earthy".

What If I Only Have Kitchen Scraps?

 

  Start a worm composter!  Known as vermicomposting, this method of composting generally uses a small bin (such as a Rubbermaid tote) where kitchen scraps are added to shredded newspaper or cardboard.  Add the right kind of worms, which can be purchased online, and they do the work of breaking down the material and turning it into worm castings which is an excellent plant fertilizer.  For a great resource on vermicomposting, check out the book "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Appelhof.

What's That Smell?

(and other common composting problems)

Sometimes the composting process doesn't break down as planned and problems arise with your compost pile.  Don't give up - there is usually a simple solution to fix the problem!

If the pile smells like ammonia or rotten eggs, then...
it may contain too much nitrogen (green matter).  Add more carbon materials such as straw, dried leaves, hay, etc.
If the pile isn't breaking down...
there may not be enough air or moisture in the pile.  Try turning the pile with a garden fork and if it feels dry, add a bucket of water.  If the weather is cold, the process takes longer.  Once warm weather arrives, the pile should break down faster.
If the pile is breaking down but large pieces of material still remain...
this really isn't a problem.  Simply manually remove the large chunks and add them to a new pile.  You could screen the compost for a finer quality but generally this is not necessary.
If the pile is attracting animals...
make sure not to add meat or other animal products such as bones to the compost pile.  When adding kitchen scraps, add a handful of leaves or straw on top.  Try lining the bin with quarter inch hardware cloth.
If the pile is attracting slugs, millipedes, or other insects...
this is a normal part of the composting process and is not a problem.  Once the material had broken down and there isn't much food to eat, the insects move on.