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Composting 101

Composting 101

Composting

101

Composting is the natural way of turning yard trimmings, fruit and vegetable waste into a rich dark amendment for your soil.

Even if you are lucky enough to start with great garden soil, as your plants grow, they absorb nutrients and leave the soil less fertile which is how composting comes to the rescue. Continually adding natural amendments will improve your soil and your plant success!
CHOOSING YOUR SYSTEM
It is easy to start; all you need is a bin, drum or open pile.
  • The bin can be purchased or made at home.
  • The two basic types of bins are: stationary bins and tumblers, concrete blocks, wood pallets, garbage cans, hardware cloth, welding wire fencing or scrap wood are all suitable for creating a DIY bin.
  • The optimal bin size is between 3’x3’x3’ (one cubic yard) and 5’x5’x5’.
  • All bins require holes for air circulation, but are allowed to rest in either the sun or shade.
  • Having two bins allows one batch to cook/cure while the other is being assembled.
  • Once you choose your system, you can begin…
GETTING STARTED
Chop materials to about two inches for efficient composting especially, if they are hard or woody tissues.
  • Mix “browns” (woody, dry materials) and “greens” (moist, green materials).
  • The recipe is to mix 1-3 parts “browns” to 1 part  “greens”.
  • Turn the pile on a regular basis. This helps maintain balance between air and water and lends to quicker decomposition of materials.
  • The compost should maintain the moisture of
    a wrung-out sponge.
  • Bury food scraps 6-12 inches deep in the heart of the pile.
  • Always wear gloves when handling compost.
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DO COMPOST
Greens (Nitrogen)
  • Fruit waste
  • Vegetable waste
  • Grass clippings
  • Well-composted herbivore manures
  • Flowers
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves/bags
  • Young weeds that have not yet gone to seed
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DO COMPOST
Browns (Carbon)
  • Coffee filters
  • Wood shavings
  • Pine needles (careful, they influence pH)
  • Chopped woody prunings
  • Sawdust
  • Straw
  • Eggshells
  • Dry leaves

Troubleshooting

Two common issues with composting is either smell or a failure to break down. And luckily, both can be easily fixed if you follow these guidelines.

If the compost is smelling, there is too much green material. By adding more brown to “soak up” the extra moisture, the problem is fixed, sometimes in as little as a few hours. Shredded paper or leaves work especially well as a cure.

If the compost just won’t break down, there is too much brown material or the brown material pieces might be too large. Increase the amount of green compared to brown to get the pile cooking again. If the brown material pieces are large, that creates air pockets, preventing the brown and green material from touching. Chop the brown material into smaller pieces to solve this problem.
Don't compost
Don't Compost
  • Meat, fish or bones
  • Dairy products
  • Grease, oil or fat
  • Glossy paper
  • Sawdust from plywood or treated wood
  • Invasive plants (Bermuda grass, ivy, oxalis, nutsedge)
  • Dog, cat or bird waste
  • Stove, fireplace or barbeque ash
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds that have gone to seed or that spread by roots or bulbs
WATER, AIR & TEMPERATURE
  • Water is essential in the decomposition process.
    Try watering the pile while turning it to achieve
    ideal dampness.
  • Air is also essential to aid decomposition. By turning the pile, air is introduced and distributed throughout the pile and reduces compaction of materials.
  • Temperatures ideal for composting is between 122- 131°F. Temperatures above 140°F (for up to 10 days) will kill many pathogens and weed seeds. Above 160°F, the bacteria will die and the compost process ceases. Piles are hottest at the center, which is why turning is an important part of preventing temperatures above 160°F. 
  • As the compost process finishes, the pile temperature will cool to about 70°F.
WHEN IS IT READY?
You’ll know your compost is ready when:
  • It doesn’t smell bad, but instead smells like soil.
  • The materials you added are no longer identifiable.
USING COMPOST
  • In the Garden: till into existing, applying 2-5 inches, or use it to top-dress like mulch.
  • Established Beds: apply 3-4 inches.
  • Lawn: spread 1/2 inch over the lawn.
Finished compost is slightly acidic or pH neutral. Enjoy and watch  your plants thrive!
Compost
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