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Compost 101

What is Compost? 

Compost is a useful organic material made from organic wastes (yard trimmings-leaves,grass clippings,plant materials-,food wastes,certain manures) which the decayed remains of organic matter that has rotted into a natural fertilizer and soil conditioner.

Finished compost enhances plant growth organically also conditioning of the soil to hold more moisture and nutrients.

Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. That's a lot of waste to send to landfills when it could become useful and environmentally beneficial compost instead.

Some examples of waste that can be composted: 

  • and cow manures that are not fresh
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Eggshells
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Yard trimmings

How to Compost:

All composting requires three basic ingredients:

  • Brown Waste(Carbon)—Includes materials such as dead leaves, sawdust, garden soil, old compost, small branches and twigs 
  • Green Waste(Nitrogen)—Includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable & flower waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds, manure
  • Water

Having the right amount of greens, browns, and water is important for compost development. Ideally, your compost pile should have a ratio of 3 part browns to 1 part greens and alternate layers of organic materials of different size particles. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost and the green materials provide nitrogen, while the water provides moisture to help breakdown the organic matter.

Location: Area should be convenient for adding materials and removing compost. Make sure to put the pile on a level well-drained area.

Heat it Up: Heat speeds up decomposing, so sunlight is helpful but not necessity. Turn your pile frequently if possible, this quickens the breakdown of materials. Keeping the pile moist by adding water or rainfall will be a benefit of composting. The perfect situation is to have the pile slightly moist on the inside. A real soggy pile will breakdown slower.

Size of Compost: Try to work with an area no larger than a 3' x 3' x 3'. Its a lot easier to try to turn a pile this size, and if its smaller than this size the pile does not heat up as quick. If you go larger, be prepared to keep it managable for best results, it may require more turning of the pile to breakdown.

Making a Pile: Add small branches and twigs to the bottom, add greens and browns mixed and alternate again to mix altogether to allow air flow throughout pile. Between layers sprinkle soil or old compost to innoculate the pile with microrganisms. Then moisten the pile to the consistency of a damp sponge.

Working the Pile: Increase air circulation through out the compost pile by poking holes in the pile with a broom handle or pitchfork. Turn the pile with a garden fork when the pile starts to cool down. The object is to move less decomposed matter to the pile center.

Finished Product: It can take anywhere from three months to two years to produce finished compost. The more attention you give the pile(performing tasks such as frequently turning the pile, adding the right ingredients, maintaining a proper moisture level, etc), the faster the materials will break down. It's ready when the dark rich soil like substance crumbles in your hands. There are many benefits of doing this garden chore: improves soil conditioning and plant growth without any chemical fertilizers, keeps waste that would otherwise be thrown in the landfills recycled and reused.