Benefits of Composting

It reduces dependency on manufactured fertilizers while adding nutrients necessary for plant growth. Composting is inexpensive and, by recycling organic waste materials, it reduces the need for landfill space. Soil pH is altered by compost addition. Ideal pH for growing most fruits, vegetables and herbaceous ornamentals is usually between 6.0 and 7.5. If the soil is too alkaline, compost may help lower it slowly. If soils tend to be either heavy clay or sandy when organic matter is added, soil structure is enhanced by leading to better nutrient- and moisture-holding capacity.

Components rich in carbon and nitrogen are essential for a compost pile to work. Fresh green materials (such as green leaves, fresh grass clippings, green plant wastes from gardens, and fruit and vegetable wastes from the kitchen) will be nitrogen-rich while brown components (such as dried leaves, straw, sawdust and dried grass clippings) are carbon-rich.

The best carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for compost is about 25 to 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. If there is too much brown material in the pile, decomposition will be slowed. If there is too much green material, nitrogen may be lost, and the pile may smell like ammonia.

High-nitrogen materials, high-carbon materials and thin layers of native soil should be layered when starting a compost pile.

Organic kitchen waste can be used in a pile. Things like vegetable waste and fruit peelings can be added. Avoid anything of animal origin; these don't decompose readily and can attract unwanted pests. Because of the potential for high salt content and the spread of disease pathogens, livestock manure is not recommended in a compost pile of this sort.

Yard waste can be used if chopped into small pieces; however, avoid grass clippings if any type of herbicide has been applied. Also, avoid putting diseased or insect-infested yard waste into the compost bin. Temperatures may not get high enough in the pile to kill them.

By establishing a small compost pile, this biological process can be sped up by managing temperature, oxygen and moisture content. A compost pile should be in a warm spot but out of the wind so it doesn t dry out too quickly.

An ideal size is one cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet). A pile that is too small won t heat up enough to kill weed seeds and other pests. If the pile is too tall, aeration needed for decomposition may not be adequate.

Consistent moisture is important. The pile should be moist enough to feel like a wrung-out sponge. If the pile is too wet, it may give off an unpleasant odor. If it is too dry, it will not decompose.

Periodically add a little native soil to the pile to incorporate natural, beneficial microbes, which do the decomposing.

Turn the pile frequently by using a tool such as a pitchfork as air is essential for the composting process to work.

Smaller pieces of waste will decompose faster than larger pieces, which can be chopped up before being added to the pile.

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