Composting – Don’t Throw It Away!

Interested in reducing the amount of waste going into our landfills while simultaneously creating a regular supply of nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer that’s great for your garden, plants, shrubs, and lawn? Consider composting!

Consider that 25% of average household waste is made up of food and yard waste that ends up in our municipal landfills. Consider further that by composting that food and yard waste, you could create a free supply of a nutritious soil amendment that’s rich with beneficial fungi, bacteria and earthworms. Adding compost to soil increases its water-holding capacity, invigorates the soil-food web, and provides a buffet of plant nutrients. Compost even contains substances that enhance plants’ ability to respond to challenges from insect and diseases. No wonder compost is often called “black gold.”

Home Composting Made Easy – Just Do It!

Many people don’t even consider composting because they believe they need a fancy bin or some precise ratio of “browns and greens,” or that they need to aerate or wet the compost often, or even that they need to take its temperature to make sure it’s “cooking.” Nothing could be further from the truth! All those things are fine to do, but they are totally optional. Home composting can be as simple as you want it to be – and no special expertise is needed.

The Very Basics of Composting:

  1. Set a commercial or homemade composter on the ground in your yard. For an inexpensive homemade bin, make a 3-4 foot diameter circle out of 3-4 foot high welded wire or plastic garden fencing. Or don’t — my compost pile is in the corner of my backyard, and I just pile everything right on the ground with no fencing whatsoever.
  2. Add kitchen waste, dead plants, grass clippings, leaves, plant trimmings, etc. onto your pile. To minimize trips to the compost pile, I keep a 1-gal. lidded stainless steel container under the sink and add kitchen waste as I generate it. When the container’s full, I go dump it on the compost pile.
  3. Turning (aerating) the pile is optional. It does speed up the composting process, but it’s not mandatory. I do it, but by no means frequently or regularly. When I do, I use a shovel or a pitchfork to turn and mix the pile, basically trying to get material on the bottom to the top. Don’t waste a lot of time turning it, but giving it a few turns now and again will help it and will also let you know for sure when it’s ready to use.
  4. The compost is ready to use when you can no longer recognize the original “ingredients” and it’s dark brown or black in color, crumbly and earthy smelling. Some people cover their finished compost (with a tarp or similar) to prevent rain from leaching out nutrients; I don’t.
  5. That’s it! No need to water it or balance the ratio of browns (leaves, dead plants, etc.) to greens (grass clippings, kitchen waste, etc.) or even turn it or stir it. None of that is wrong, it just makes home composting harder than it needs to be. It will still eventually mature into compost with a hands-off approach.

GOOD Compost Ingredients:

  • Leaves, hay, shrub or hedge trimmings, small sticks and other dead plant material. (Don’t throw that flower arrangement in the trash when it fades, compost it!)
  • Fruit and vegetable trimmings (apple cores, banana peels, melon rinds, orange peels – the list is endless. Basically, any part of any vegetable or fruit that you are not going to eat is good to go. And any produce that you don’t get around to eating before it goes bad, throw that in there too.)
  • Table scraps and egg shells
  • Coffee grounds & filters, teabags
  • Grass Clippings
  • Sawdust or wood chips (from untreated wood)
  • Newspaper (preferably torn into strips)
  • Dryer lint

Bad Compost Ingredients – DO NOT ADD:

  • Meat or meat scraps, bones
  • Oily or fatty/greasy foods
  • Dairy (I add small amounts of expired milk, yogurt or buttermilk, and they will not smell if you cover them slightly within the pile)
  • Manure from omnivorous animals (dogs, cats, humans, etc.)
  • Woodchips or sawdust from chemically treated wood

Once you have ready compost, use it for container planting (1 part compost, 2 parts soil), top-dress shrubs, trees and plants, dig it into your garden beds to mix with the soil, and even top-dress your lawn with it as a soil conditioner. Composting does a world of good for your lawn/garden/shrubs/plants, cuts down on household waste going into our landfills, and is a cheaper, more natural alternative to fertilizing. It’s the ultimate win-win. So give composting a try, and see how easy it is to create your own “black gold!”

– Rob Harrington, Beautification Committee Chair, redolee@yahoo.com

For more info on easy composting, go to http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2006-10-01/Compost-Made-Easy.aspx

Composting Made Easy
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