While the average consumer continues to throw away garbage at an astounding rate, it may come as a surprise that much of what is discarded can be used in the garden. The process of composting reuses organic materials to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Simple to learn, composting benefits all soil types, helps retain water and reduces the amount of waste sent to overcrowded landfills.
Compost can be made anywhere in the garden. An area that is 3 cubic feet works best to retain moisture and heat. A bin helps contain compost, deter pests and keep in heat. Bins can be purchased or made from a variety of materials. Pallets, wire mesh, cinder blocks or other material can be used to create a bin.
Compost requires 50 percent green waste and 50 percent brown waste. Green waste consists of grass clippings, yard trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags and manure from horses, cows, chickens or rabbits. Brown waste includes dried leaves, woody plant material, chopped branches, twigs, straw, hay, newspaper, cardboard and sawdust. Not all organic waste can be put in the compost pile. Meat, fish, poultry, bones, dairy products, grease, lard, dog feces, cat feces, treated wood products, and charcoal and Duraflame ashes should not be used when composting. Weed seeds, Bermuda grass, and nut sedge should be left out of the pile also.
Water and Air
The microorganisms that break down organic materials require water. Keep the compost pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Air is also necessary for microorganisms to live and breed. The compost pile must be turned to circulate air throughout. Turning the pile speeds up decomposition and inhibits odor-causing bacteria. Chopping up materials before placing them in the compost pile allows materials to break down more quickly. The compost bin generates heat. An adequate supply of water and air keeps heat levels high enough for decay to occur.
Problems generally occur when one of basic four elements of composting is not present. When too many green materials are in the pile, an ammonia smell can develop. This is remedied by adding more brown materials. A rotten odor indicates the pile is too wet or needs to be turned. A low temperature results from not enough green materials, lack of air or water, or a pile that is too small. Flies and rodents are attracted to piles with exposed food. Covering the pile with straw or dried leaves can act as a deterrent.
Using Your Finished Compost
When finished, compost smells and feels earthy. Original garden waste is now brown, crumbly and unrecognizable. Large substances can be left in the pile to further decompose. To use compost, spread 2 to 4 inches over the soil and dig in to a depth of 6 inches.