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Dangers in Composting

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Dangers in Composting

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Overview

"Composting is the biological decomposition of organic material into a humus-like substance called compost. The process occurs naturally, but can be accelerated and improved," according to the University of Illinois Extension's article, "Composting for the Homeowner." Creating compost in your own heap or compost tumbler is a boon to your garden soil but also presents potential dangers.

Ingredients

The safest ingredients for your compost pile are grass cuttings from your lawn, dead leaves, small branches you pruned and coffee grounds, fruits and vegetables from your kitchen. Add rinsed eggshells but no animal fats. Undressed leftover salad is a good choice, but discard dressed salad with fat in the dressing. Dispose of pet droppings in the garbage. Do not compost meat, because it attracts rats and other animals.

Location

Choose a site that is conveniently close to your house so that you can easily walk outside and add kitchen scraps to the compost. The compost should not be next to the wall of your house or adjacent to a wooden fence. In rare cases hot compost heaps have spontaneously combusted. The site should have good air circulation, both to provide oxygen to the compost and to disperse any odors.

Structure

Ideally the compost should be in a wooden or plastic container. Allow for generous air circulation and easy access to turn the composting material and accelerate the process. Cover the compost with a screen or other ventilated lid to block vermin and flies from invading the compost. A plastic tumbler keeps the compost secure while it is breaking down.

Maintenance

Layer your compost pile with a variety of ingredients. A mixture of green and brown items, for example, grass and dead leaves, speeds decomposition. Turn the compost regularly to keep the heated compost dispersed in the pile, and water the compost so that it has the feel of a damp sponge. The bacteria in the compost break down slowly, and it is safest to wait one year before spreading the compost in your garden.

Warnings

Bacteria and mold are an integral part of the composting process. Always wear gloves when working with compost, and wash your hands thoroughly at the end of the job. Avoid inhaling deeply while you are turning the compost, especially if the pile is dry. Molds move more easily through the air from a dry pile, and inhaled mold can cause diseases.

Keywords: compost heap, compost pile, compost

About this Author

Caroline West is a garden writer specializing in organic gardening, bulbs, and landscape design. When she's not tending her drought-tolerant, deer-resistant garden, she writes about gardening for online magazines and her local newspaper. West is also working toward a certificate in horticulture.

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