Composting is the environmentally-friendly way to recycle lawn yard and garden waste
Composting is the environmentally-friendly way to recycle lawn yard and garden waste, as well as food scraps, paperboard egg cartons and even some newspapers. A well-managed backyard compost operation can reduce and recycle as much as one-third of all household waste. The end result of compost is a rich crumbly soil-like substance that will do wonders for your garden.
Compost is not a fertilizer, but it does make your soil more fertile by making it a better place for plants to grow. It adds organic matter to it, which breaks up heavy clay soil or tightens up loose, sandy soil, allowing it to retain more moisture and oxygen, things plants need to thrive.
Making compost can be as easy as tossing all of your leaves, grass clippings, branches, roots and other yard waste in a big pile and letting it rot. This method is messy and will take a long period of time, but it does work.
A better way to make compost, and one that is more suited to your urban and suburban yards, is to purchase or fabricate a compost bin. This bin should be four feet by four feet by four feet. The compost bins I have used in the past were simply a stiff plastic coated wire bin that I purchased from Gardener’s Supply in Burlington, VT (www.gardeners.com).
You can also make a compost bin out of recycled concrete blocks, lumber, storm fencing or chicken wire. For your neighbor’s sake, just make sure it looks nice.
The fundamental principle of successful composting is that you have to load the bin with a combination of waste that is high in carbon and high in nitrogen, otherwise the compost won’t break down. Leaves, bark, shredded branches, paper and paperboard egg cartons are all high carbon. Kitchen scraps, dead plants, spent flowers and coffee grounds are all high in nitrogen.
Livestock manure is also a wonderful high-nitrogen addition to a compost bin, and if you can get a bushel or so from a source, all power to you. Most people now say to keep pet feces out of your compost bin because of the threat of unwanted pathogens.
Do not add animal-derived kitchen scraps to your compost bin unless you want it to smell bad and attract raccoons and other varmints. Remember this rule: If it comes from a plant, toss it in, if it comes from an animal, keep it out!
Place a six-inch layer of shredded leaves in the bottom of your bin. Cover that with kitchen scraps or spent plants. Cover that with more leaves, then more scraps, then leaves. Get the idea?
When I lived in Columbia County and had all the room in the world to make compost, I had three bins. One was the active bin where I mixed the leaves and kitchens scraps. Another was full of leaves and other yard waste. The third was ready to be filled when the first one was filled.
You can make compost all winter long. Just toss in the scraps and cover with leaves. The microorganisms that actually do the work of digesting the plant material go dormant when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, and the pile will eventually freeze as the temperature drops. Keep adding scraps. In the spring, the temperature will rise, the pile will thaw out, the microorganisms will get back into action and the magic of composting will begin all over again.
At some point, you should stop adding material to the bin so that the entire load will turn into composted material at the same time, usually in early summer. Then scoop the compost out, toss it on the garden and start all over again. If you run out of leaves you can add shredded paper or straw to the pile as the carbon substitute.
Some garden centers and catalogues will sell a compost activator or compost starter. This is not harmful and can be beneficial, but it is not necessary. There are plenty of microorganisms everywhere to activate your compost pile and get it working.
If you make compost on a regular basis, you will soon be very popular with people who like to go fishing. Big fat worms will soon take up abode in the compost bin and you can make gifts of worms to every angler you know.
Editor’s Note: This is Larry’s last column for the season. He will return in April.
Larry Sombke is a landscape consultant, speaker, author and guest speaker on Northeast Public Radio. Contact him with questions at www.beautifuleasygardens.blogspot.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.