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Back to Gardening Basics: Easy Composting

Easy Composting

My DH is always complaining about how much garbage he takes out each week.  On a heavy cooking/cleaning weekend, he’ll take out a bag full each day.  There has to be a way to reduce what we toss, right?  Cue my annual goal to have  a lovely, bountiful garden. I generally try something new every spring…not sure why I don’t just stick with the tried-and-true.  I’m a sucker for gimmicks and “researching” myself into trying the latest garden trend. I’ve gardened upside down, I’ve gardened soil-less, I’ve gardened in a variety of containers, and I’ve gardened in an free-formed mound (the latter site we now lovingly call “the grave”.) All methods had some degree of success, but in hindsight, I feel like I would have had a better harvest had I stuck with traditional methods.  This brings me to this year’s plan and reducing the number of bags of garbage DH can complain about.  This is my year to get back to basics and compost! Composting  – from what I understand – is one of the most rewarding things you can take up after you decide to live greener. I hope that by the summertime, I’ll have created the magic bullet that will give my garden the edge it needs to keep me in squash, beans and tomatoes for weeks! (Note to self: get the canning supplies ready, too!)

Benefits of Composting

Soil conditioner: With compost, you are creating rich humus for lawn and garden. This adds nutrients to your plants and helps retain moisture in the soil.

Recycles kitchen and yard waste: Composting can divert as much as 30% of household waste away from the garbage can.

Introduces beneficial organisms to the soil:
 Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off plant disease.

Good for the environment:
 Composting offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers. 


Reduces landfill waste:
 Most landfills in North America are quickly filling up; many have already closed down. One-third of landfill waste is made up of compostable materials.

You can also add garden soil to your compost. A layer of soil will help to mask any odors, and micro-organisms in the soil will accelerate the composting process.Do not compost meat, bones or fish scraps (they will attract pests), perennial weeds (they can be spread with the compost) or diseased plants. Do not not include pet manures in compost that will be used on food crops. Banana peels, peach peels and orange rinds may contain pesticide residue, and should be kept out of the compost. Black walnut leaves should not be composted. Sawdust may be added to the compost, but should be mixed or scattered thinly to avoid clumping. Be sure sawdust is clean, with no machine oil or chain oil residues from cutting equipment.For kitchen wastes, keep a container with a lid and a handle under the sink. Consider using a stainless steel compost pail with air filter, or the ceramic model. If you don’t mind occasional smells, use an old ice-cream pail. Chop up any large chunks before you toss them in. When the container is full, take it out to your composter and toss in the contents.With yard and garden wastes, different composting materials will decompose at different rates but they will all break down eventually. If you want to speed up the composting process, chop the larger material into smaller pieces. Leaves and grass clippings are also excellent for compost, but should be sprinkled into the bin with other materials, or dug in to the center of the pile and mixed.

What to Compost

 

Material
Carbon/Nitrogen
                 Info
 table scraps
Nitrogen
 add with dry carbon items
 fruit & vegetable scraps
Nitrogen
 add with dry carbon items
 eggshells
neutral
 best when crushed
 leaves
Carbon
 leaves break down faster when shredded
 grass clippings
Nitrogen
 add in thin layers so they don’t mat into clumps
 garden plants
 use disease-free plants only
 lawn & garden weeds
Nitrogen
 only use weeds which have not gone to seed
 shrub prunings
Carbon
 woody prunings are slow to break down
 straw or hay
Carbon
 straw is best; hay (with seeds) is less ideal
 green comfrey leaves
Nitrogen
 excellent compost ‘activator’
 pine needles
Carbon
 acidic; use in moderate amounts
 flowers, cuttings
Nitrogen
 chop up any long woody stems
 seaweed and kelp
Nitrogen
 apply in thin layers; good source for trace minerals
 wood ash
Carbon
 only use ash from clean materials; sprinkle lightly
 chicken manure
Nitrogen
 excellent compost ‘activator’
 coffee grounds
Nitrogen
 filters may also be included
 tea leaves
Nitrogen
 loose or in bags
 newspaper
Carbon
 avoid using glossy paper and colored inks
 shredded paper
Carbon
 avoid using glossy paper and colored inks
 cardboard
Carbon
 shred material to avoid matting
 corn cobs, stalks
Carbon
 slow to decompose; best if chopped up
 dryer lint
Carbon
 best if from natural fibers
 sawdust pellets
Carbon
 high carbon levels; add in layers to avoid clumping
 wood chips / pellets
Carbon
 high carbon levels; use sparingly
How to Compost
1. Start your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to your garden beds.2. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.3. Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc. Dry materials are straw, leaves, sawdust pellets and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.4. Add manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.

5. Keep compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job.

6. Cover with anything you have – wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered by rain. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.

7. Turn. Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen. You can skip this step if you have a ready supply of coarse material, like straw. Once your compost pile is established, add new materials by mixing them in, rather than by adding them in layers. Mixing, or turning, the compost pile is key to aerating the composting materials and speeding the process to completion.

NoteIf you want to buy a composter, rather than build your own compost pile, you may consider a buying a rotating compost tumbler which makes it easy to mix the compost regularly.

SOURCE: http://eartheasy.com

Composting 101 -- What