June 2012 Newsletter (vol.8)   >>   Don't Throw That Away

Compost Image

 

One Man's Trash is Another Plant's Treasure!

Yard trimmings and food residuals constitute 27% of the US waste stream, according to the EPA. This may not seem like much, but all or most of that could be prevented by backyard composting. Did you know that compost can reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, promote higher yields, save you money by reducing trash costs, reduce the need to purchase conventional soil, and help save the earth by reducing greenhouse gases? With all of these reasons to compost why not start today?

 

To begin composting you need a bin, pile, or a tumbler and the space. You may start with a simple pile and move to a tumbler or bin which is recommended when you begin to incorporate food scraps. Food scraps will attract critters so it is highly recommended to use a bin with a lid. Select a dry, shady to partly shady space near a water source but out of sight of entertaining places in your yard. The ideal compost area should be 1 cubic yard (3’ x 3’ x 3’) to provide enough food and insulation for organisms.

Once the location and structure have been chosen, you can begin accumulating compost. The EPA has an easy recipe for the perfect compost: Browns for carbon, greens for nitrogen, air for organisms, and water for moisture. Mix three parts browns to one part greens in alternating layers. The smaller the particle size the faster they will be broken down. Be sure to bury fruit and vegetable waste under at least 10” of compost matter. Every time you add to the pile, fluff it with a shovel or compost fork to aerate and if your compost bin does have a lid, be sure to add water. Compost Bio-Excelerator can also be added to speed the decomposition. It contains microbes that are active in high heat situations.

 

Your compost will be ready to use in the garden when the material is dark and rich in color with no remnants of your food or yard waste. This may only be true for the bottom portion of the pile, so you can use a sieve to screen out the large particles to return them for further composting. Do not use your back yard compost for houseplants because weed seed may survive the composting process.

 

What Materials are Safe to Compost?

Greens:

  • Uncooked/cooked fruits and vegetables
    • Bananas can provide potassium to your compost pile just as they do for humans.
  • Bread and grains
  • Coffee grounds and filters
    • Great for acid loving plants.
  • Grass clippings
    • Abundant source of nitrogen. Also recommended to leave grass clippings in your lawn to return nitrogen back to the soil.
  • Paper tea bags (with the staple removed)
  • Hair and fur
  • Chicken, rabbit, cow, or horse manure

 

Browns

  • Cotton or wool rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
    • Wash first then crush into the compost pile. They provide calcium (calcium carbonate) to the compost/garden helping fight blossom end rot in tomatoes. Great soil amendment.
  • Nut shells
  • Fireplace ashes (wood burning only)
  • Sawdust
  • Hay & straw
  • Yard trimmings (leaves, branches, twigs)
  • Houseplants
  • Used potting soil
  • Wood chips
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper

 

What Materials Should NOT be Composted?

  • Aluminum, tin, any other metals or glass
  • Eggs and dairy products (butter, milk, sour cream, or yogurt)
  • Fats, grease, lard, oils, or greasy/oily foods
  • Meat or seafood scraps
  • Pet wastes (dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
    • Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans.
  • Plastics of any kind
  • Stickers from fruits or vegetables
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
    • Black walnuts produce juglone which is a biochemical that is toxic to many plant species. (aka allelopathy)
  • Roots of perennial weeds
    • These roots may not die during the composting process and could grow back in beds where the compost is used.
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Firestarter logs
  • Treated or painted wood
  • Yard trimmings treated with pesticides including herbicides.

 

What is Wrong with your Compost Pile?

Problem Cause Remedy
Rotten Egg Smell Not enough aeration or too much moisture Fluff pile and incorporate coarse browns
Ammonia Smell Too much nitrogen (greens) Incorporate coarse browns
Pile Does Not Heat Up or Decomposes Slowly Pile is too small Add more organic matter
Not enough moisture Fluff pile and add water
Lack of nitrogen Incorporate food waste, grass clippings, or manure.
Not enough aeration Fluff/Turn the pile
Cool weather
Increase pile size or insulate with straw or a tarp. Monitor the temperature of the pile with a compost thermometer.
 

 

Sources:
United States Environmental Protection Agency. October 2009
http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/greenscapes/pubs/compost-guide.pdf
The Espoma Company. http://www.espoma.com/p_consumer/pdf/garden_projects/Composting.pdf