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Composting in Your Own Back Yard

If you could send less trash to the landfill, do something useful with kitchen scraps, and make your garden happy all at the same time, wouldn’t that be great? Well, you can! Composting turns garden trimmings, kitchen waste, and trash into rich, fertile soil.

Awesome for Our Earth

Composting helps make a healthy planet. Up to one-fourth of material in landfills is organic matter which rots and makes methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. All that organic material could have been composted, and if it were, our atmosphere (and our soil) would be much healthier.

Amazing in Your Garden

Adding compost to your plants’ soil provides loads of nutrients, inhibits pests, and helps plants resist disease. That means you can use less fertilizer and pesticide. Many gardeners who use compost don’t use pesticides at all. You’ll also save money, since compost is the best potting soil and soil amendment you can find.

Back Yard Composting in Six Easy Steps

So, you want to compost? Great! Let’s get started.

Step 1. Select your location and set up a container, if you’re using one.

Choose a spot in your yard that’s out of sight and not in an outdoor living space. A healthy compost pile won’t smell bad, but compost containers aren’t beautiful, and if you don’t use a container you might prefer your pile not be visible.

No Container Necessary… A heap on the ground makes a perfectly good compost pile; it just takes a little longer to “cook.” An open pile is free and easy to maintain. On the down side, the contents of open piles are visible and there’s nothing to keep out critters that might sniff out your table scraps.

Benefits of a Container… Composting containers look neater and create compost more quickly since they hold in more heat than an open pile. Some are drums that make turning the compost easier. Plus, an enclosure keeps varmints from rooting through the mix for treats. On the down side, composting containers cost money. Whatever works best for your situation is great. Either approach can work just fine.

Step 2. Collect your materials.

You’ll need green and brown materials, water, and a pitchfork or other turning tool.

Green Material. In composting lingo, “green” material is compostable stuff with moisture. That includes vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, manure, and fresh garden and grass trimmings. You’ll use one part green material to two or three parts brown.

Brown Material. “Brown” material is stuff that is dry. Included are dry leaves, hay or straw, pine needles, saw dust, dry brown grass clippings, and shredded newspaper or cardboard. You’ll use two or three parts brown material to one part green.

Step 3. Build the pile.

Basically, alternate green (wet) and brown (dry) layers. Start with brown on the bottom layer and dampen it with a little water. Add a layer of green material and cover it well with more brown. Keeping a leaf pile or bag of old, dry leaves nearby makes this easy.

Continue layering: green, brown, a little water.

Note: Always cover green materials with about double the amount of dry, brown material or soil. This helps the process, keeps odors down, and discourages animals from rooting through your pile.

Eventually, make your pile about three feet square by three feet tall. If it gets much bigger, it becomes very hard to turn. When your pile is 3x3x3, keep tending it but start a new pile. This will allow older materials to more quickly become lush, new earth.

Step 4. Water, Air, and Loving Care.

Now, it just needs to cook. Compost is full of living organisms that need air, water, and a little attention to thrive, just like we do. Once every week or two use a pitchfork to turn and aerate the compost. Add some water if needed to keep everything moist but not soggy.

Step 6. Harvest Your Compost!

Compost is ready when it’s dark and crumbly, has a rich, earthy smell, and is completely broken down, so you can’t identify any of the source material. Resist the urge to use it early; if it hasn’t finished decomposing, it can leech nutrients from the soil rather than contributing them!

How Long Does It Take? Container compost can be ready in as little as three weeks, but usually takes a few months. Adding compost starter or worms will speed things up. If speed is not an issue, Mother Nature will take care of it. A big pile that nobody pays attention to will become compost in a year or two.

Worms for composting

What NOT to Put in Compost

Don’t add meat or bones, grease, dairy products, or pet or human waste. Also don’t put in anything that’s been treated with pesticides, since pesticide residue could kill all the lovely buggies that are making the compost for you. Take good care of them, and they’ll take care of you!

If It Smells

If the compost smells bad, it’s almost always one of three problems.

Too much water.

Drain it if you can. If not, turn it every day for a few days until some water evaporates and the pile is only moist, not wet. Adding brown material also can help.

Not enough brown material.

If the pile is soggy and starts to smell rotten, add brown material until the proportion is two to three parts brown for every part green.

Something from the NOT list is in the pile.

Get it out of there!

Happy Composting

Composting is easy, cheap, and good for our planet. It’s also fun. Have a great time composting, and let us know how it’s going. We’d love to hear all the ways you’re making the world a better place.

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