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Composting turns waste into nature's gold

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If you already recycle, give yourself a pat on the back. You are slowly inching your way up the green living ladder. The next stage on the rungs is all about composting.

Get the facts

Composting is a natural process that helps return recycled nutrients and minerals to the earth. In the wild, this nutrient recycling is usually called natural decomposition. What's the difference? According to the EPA, “composting refers to the controlled decomposition of organic (or carbon-containing) matter by microorganisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) into a stable humus material.”

Decomposed materials are then taken up and incorporated into the natural processes of plants, animals, micro organisms, macro organisms and the surrounding ecosystem.

Composting also helps nourish the soil and prevent soil erosion, which in turn aids in preserving water and other resources. Consumers also benefit from money savings.

Gather the materials

Successful home composts require:

  1. Space
  2. Storage
  3. Maintenance

The City of San Diego recommends setting aside 3 square feet for the best results. Homemade or manufactured compost bins provide storage for decomposing materials, a buffer from odor and a deterrent from pests. Ready made bins are available from garden centers, nurseries or online purchase. The Solana Center for Environmental Innovation offers excellent resources and workshops for beginners.

Create the masterpiece

Remember these four ingredients:

  1. Green waste for nitrogen (fruit and veggie scraps, grass and yard clippings, tea bags, coffee grounds and egg shells)
  2. Brown waste for carbon (mulched branches, bark, leaves, straw and hay)
  3. Air
  4. Water

Never add meat, dairy, bones, oil, grease, pasta or dog and cat litter to your compost bin.

Organic materials often constitute 40 to 60 percent of landfill waste. As a result, many research programs like the Cornell Waste Management Institute work hard to educate consumers about landfill dynamics. Proper separation and efficiency go hand in hand.

Activate the pile

Layer the compost ingredients to ensure an even distribution. Using active composting techniques turn the pile once a week to prevent anaerobic odors from rot. This also encourages healthy material breakdown and keeps food scraps hidden from rodent scavenging. The City of San Diego states that active composting kills weed seeds since it raises the internal temperature to around 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Mature compost is generally ready in three to four months.

Adding water every time you turn the pile keeps the material moist. Since soggy material will not decompose, do not let your compost material become saturated.

Passive composting often takes six months to one year before mature compost is available. Turn the pile once a month, and remember to add water.

Call the City of San Diego and Solana Center’s Rotline at (760) 436-7986 ext 222 for expert advice and tips on making waste useful.

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