Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher Gabriel Program. We also highlight a favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately 1220pm (central) every Wednesday at WDAY.com or, if you’re in North Dakota or western Minnesota, listen on your radio at AM970 WDAY.
Why Make Compost?
- Vegetable scraps are the largest unrecycled portion of the residential waste stream. About 35% of residential garbage is food waste.
- Compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments, and you can use it instead of commercial fertilizers. Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil’s water-holding capacity.
- Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms, so few if any soil amendments will need to be added.
Just remember that all organic material breaks down. Even if you just toss your yard debris into a hole in the ground, it will eventually turn into compost. There are ways to get faster results, but it’s not the end of the world if you make step in the wrong direction along the way. For instance, if your compost is too dry, you can put some water on it and set things back on the right course.
Homemade bins can be constructed out of scrap wood, chicken wire, snow fencing or even old garbage cans (with holes punched in the sides and bottom). Manufactured bins include turning units, hoops, cones, and stacking bins. These can be purchased from your garbage company, retail or mail-order businesses.
Worm composting or vermicomposting is the practice of using worms to make compost. The word vermi is the Latin word for worm, and worms like to feed on slowly decomposing organic materials (e.g., vegetable scraps). The end product, called castings, is full of beneficial microbes and nutrients, and makes a great plant fertilizer.
If you have grass clippings and don’t want to use them in a compost pile you can leave them on the lawn to decompose.
Where to Place Your Compost Pile or Bin
Any pile of organic matter will eventually rot, but a well-chosen site can speed up the process. Look for a level, well-drained area. If you plan to add kitchen scraps, keep it accessible to the back door. Don’t put it so far away you’ll neglect the pile. In cooler latitudes, keep the pile in a sunny spot to trap solar heat. Look for some shelter to protect the pile from freezing cold winds which could slow down the decaying process. In warm, dry latitudes, shelter the pile in a shadier spot so it doesn’t dry out too quickly.
Build the pile over soil or lawn rather than concrete or asphalt, to take advantage of the earthworms, beneficial microbes, and other decomposers, which will migrate up and down as the seasons change. Uncovered soil also allows for drainage.
- ORGANIC STUFF: Always feed your bin equal amounts of GREENS (materials high in nitrogen) and BROWNS (materials high in carbon). See Materials List below. When adding new materials to your bin, start with a layer of BROWNS first, then add a layer of GREENS. Top GREENS with a one-inch layer of soil or finished compost. Always bury your food scraps in the center of the pile, under the layer of soil.
- MOISTURE: Keep your pile as damp as a well-wrung sponge. Be sure to check moisture on hot summer or windy days. Sprinkle with water when dry.
- AIR: Add air to your pile every 2 to 3 weeks. Poke holes through the pile with a broom handle and loosen with a garden fork.
YES – GREENS (materials high in nitr0gen)
- Bread (no butter)
- Coffee grounds & filters
- Egg shells (crushed)
- Fruit scraps
- House plants
- Vegetable scraps
- Green plant trimmings
- Tea leaves and tea bags
- Hair (animal and human)
- Grass (small amounts)
YES – BROWNS (materials high in carbon)
- Dryer lint
- Grass clippings (dried)
- Leaves (dry)
- Woodchips (small amounts)
- Hardwood ash (thin layers)
- Sawdust (thin layers)
- Shredded cardboard
NOT ACCEPTABLE FOR COMPOSTING
- Barbecue charcoal
- Coal ash
- Dairy products
- Peanut butter
- Diseased or insect-infested plants
- Feces (animal or human)
- Weeds with mature seeds
- Wood ash or dust that is treated
- Weeds that damage (i.e. crab grass, wild morning glory)
When It’s Done
You should have finished compost in 2 to 3 months. To speed up the composting process, add new materials in tiny pieces, add air to your pile more often or add a layer of garden soil or manure. Your pile is ready when it no longer has traces of GREENS and BROWNS and is dark brown with an earthy smell. You may find that only the bottom of your pile is ready to use while the top is still decomposing.
Before you use your compost, you may wish to screen it through wire mesh and return any non-composted items to your bin.
How to Use Your Compost
- Dig some compost into the soil before you plant.
- Sprinkle some screened compost on your lawn and on the soil of houseplants.
- Use some compost as a mulch around trees and plants to retain moisture.
- Mix compost with other potting materials to start seedlings or to re-pot house plants.
Check out Sydney’s Health Market for some fabulous happenings:
SPRING SPECTACULAR – Saturday, May 14th from 11-3pm. Lots of samples, door prizes and free food!
Sydney’s Organic Farmer’s Market – Every Friday from 3-7pm, starting June 3rd.
My Green Side’s web pick of the week:
CompostGuide.com is a wonderful site full of invaluable information for home composting including simple tips to get you started and tips on the best composters to buy.