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1Thing: How to Compost

August 21, 2018
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by Lori Melton

Composting is not only good for the planet but it’s also great for your very own garden. It helps reduce landfill waste and enriches your soil; plus, the microbes produced in compost help prevent disease-carrying pathogens from destroying your garden. Some gardeners choose not to compost because they think it’s too hard or don’t even know where to begin. Following these tips will help simplify the composting process.

Choose a Compost Location

You can brew compost indoors in a bin or outdoors in a backyard pile. A metal trash can works great for this or you can buy a composting bin at your local hardware, on Amazon or you can even make your own. It’s also a good idea to keep a bucket handy under the kitchen sink to collect meal scraps and other matter you’ll add to the pile. Select a dry, shady spot near the garden and a water source for an outdoor pile and keep it away from tree roots, as they can spread and drain nutrients out of the compost.

Position the pile so that it receives a few hours of sunlight each day; heat will help organic materials break down. Make sure to remove grass with a shovel if any is growing where you’re placing your pile. Dig down to take a few inches of soil, which can serve as a great pile base. The recommended size for a compost pile is three feet square by about three feet high. You can enclose the pile with wire fencing if you’re concerned it’ll be a landscape eyesore.

Collect Compost Ingredients

Making a compost pile starts by collecting the right mix of “green” and “brown” ingredients. You should shoot for an equal mix of greens and browns. Grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, teabags and plant prunings are good green materials. Brown ingredients include dead leaves, branches, twigs, straw and sawdust. Add water frequently to moisten the heap and layer in a compost activator like alfalfa meal and shred waste items to help speed up the decomposition process. If the pile dries out, decomposition will stop.

What Not to Put in a Compost Pile

It’s important to know what not to put in a compost pile. Adding unwanted items can attract pests and rodents and generate bad odors. Items to avoid include:

  • Black walnut tree leaves and wigs which are harmful to plants
  • Diseased plants
  • Insect infested plants
  • Pet wastes like dog or cat feces and cat litter
  • Grease, fat, lard and cooking oil
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Dairy products of any kind like milk, butter, sour cream and eggs
  • Yard clippings and leaves which have been treated with chemical pesticides

Cooking and Maintaining the Compost

Again, you’ll want to keep your pile moist by watering it. Add enough water to keep it from drying out, but not so much that your mixture drips. Continue adding green and brown materials as they are collected. You’ll also want to turn the pile about once a week with a pitchfork or garden fork to mix the ingredients. Compost cooking times will vary from weeks to months. You’ll know your compost is ready when the material at the bottom is dark (almost black) and soil-like with a spongy texture.

Using the Finished Product

Simply spread the finished compost into your garden and flower beds to improve soil quality, reduce weed growth and help retain moisture. Best of all, using your homemade compost will reduce the need to use environmentally-harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

 

 

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