Closely considered the 4th “R” of recycling, compost (or rot) is nature’s method of recycling. It is a managed decomposition of organic material such as yard trimmings and food scraps. This can be done at a home site or commercially at a facility. By developing a compost pile at home, a large percentage of your waste will never reach the landfill. Instead, compositing turns your waste into a rich, quality organic matter that can be used to strengthen and protect your soil, flower beds and gardens.
Starting a Compost Pile
Establishing a compost pile in your backyard all begins with a bin. Bins can be made using scraps of wood, wire or old garbage cans. Manufactured bins can be purchased at local hardware or home improvement stores. Some cities and states have established guidelines as to how to set up a bin and what type is required for your area. To determine the guidelines in your area visit this area of the EPA’s site. Or to learn how to create your own compost site visit this EPA website link.
What Is Included
For a compost pile to be effective, the right conditions must be established for the development of organisms, fungus, bacteria and insects. The right combinations of these are required to properly breakdown the material. Developing these combinations is a lot like following a recipe. The right amount of each ingredient must be present or it will not work.
The ideal ingredients include:
Nitrogen: This chemical element is produced when green materials such as lawn clippings, landscape trimmings, fruits and vegetables are included.
Carbon: This chemical element is produced when dry yard and garden material such as dry leaves, branches, straw, wood chips and sawdust are included.
Water: Maintaining a continual presence of water and moisture will keep the composting process active. If the pile is too dry or too wet composting will stop. Proper moisture levels should be equal to a 40-60%. During warmer months, water will need to be applied frequently and during excessively rainy and colder months, the pile may need to be covered.
Air: Just like other organisms, bacteria and fungus need oxygen to live. Therefore, a steady rotation of the pile is required to ensure air is dispersed throughout the pile. A pitchfork can be used to rotate the pile or some manufactured bins include an automatic turn feature.
A balanced amount of each material is required for your compost pile to remain active and odor free. Levels can be maintained by including an even amount of both green and brown compost and offsetting it with the other once more of one ingredient is added.
Along with the items listed above, the following compost is ideal to include:
- Fruit and vegetable remains
- Coffee grounds and tea leaves
- Nut shells
- Shredded newspaper
- Animal manure
Compost to Avoid
The following compost should not be included as they release harmful substances, cause odors, attract unwanted pests or contain parasites harmful to humans.
- Coal or charcoal
- Dairy products
- Diseased plants
- Meat or fish scraps
- Fats, grease or oils
- Pet waste
- Chemically treated yard trimmings
Benefits of Composting
While deciding to compost is a major decision that requires continual maintenance and up keep, there are several benefits that make the process worth it.
Enriched Soil: Composting promotes the development of microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) which break down organic matter, creating humus. Humus is a nutritionally rich substance that spreads nutrients to the soil and helps it retain moisture.
Reduces Landfills: On average, 25% of all waste can be composted. By creating a compost at home, this will save 25% of your yearly waste from ever reaching a landfill.
Eliminate Harmful Chemicals: The humus created by composting also provides a natural suppression to plant disease and keeps pests at bay. As a result, the need for additional chemical fertilizers or harmful pesticides is eliminated. Not only does this keep toxins out of your yard, it keeps dollars in your pocket!