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Composting: Your (earth's) new best friend

If the idea of composting seems foreign to you, allow me to share insight into one of the best things that you as a homeowner can do to significantly reduce the waste you generate. According to studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, yard trimmings and food scraps together constitute as much as 23 percent of all waste that enters
landfills.  Much of this waste could be diverted from the dump if homeowners were to create a composting site and place this waste here. Diverting these materials decreases the size of our landfills and, in turn, reduces the greenhouse gasses produced by them.

Composting refers to the intentional placement of organic materials in order to naturally decompose.  For the average homeowner, these materials are typically food and yard waste, but can be extended to include any material that was at one time a plant.  The end result of this process is a breakdown product (humus) that is similar to rich soil. This compost soil is a wonderful substance that can then be used as fertilizer for many plants (ornamental and edible) and can be used as an additive to existing soil to improve its’ ability to retain water and nutrients, thus reducing the need to irrigate and chemically fertilize your landscape.
The process of composting occurs naturally with only air, water, the above mentioned materials, and bacteria/fungi.  It moves along with the help of these micro-organisms, as well as the activity of the critters which will find their way to your compost pile.  These include spiders, earthworms, fruit flies and gnats.  Before the thought of bugs and creepy crawlies scare you away, trust that if your composting site is strategically placed, well maintained, and only includes the proper “ingredients”, you can easily reduce any feeling of being invaded by pests.  Homeowners typically create piles for their compost, but it can also be kept in bins or drums.  These examples help keep your materials as neat and together as possible and allow you to properly distribute the “fuel” that feeds your compost.
I use the term “fuel” because if you think of your compost pile as an engine, what you put in to the mix will ensure that the microbes doing all of the work have everything they need to do their job.  This fuel is generally broken down into two categories; carbon sources, which are often referred to as “browns,” and nitrogen sources, which are know as your “greens.”  Browns are things such as paper, fall leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded newspaper or woodchips. Greens are grass clippings, used coffee grounds, flower blooms, tea leaves and fruit and vegetable scraps. Quite simply, a good mix of greens and browns is all you need to propel your compost.  The size of the materials entering the compost pile should be as small as possible to speed the process.  Examples of what should not enter your compost include animal by-products, dairy products, chemicals/pesticides, plastics and human waste.  Please note that this example of acceptable/non-acceptable materials is far from exhaustive, but is a general starting point of what you can begin adding to your compost pile, thus eliminating them from the trash.  An excellent list of do’s and don’ts can be found here .  It is recommended that you add the browns and greens in layers, adding moisture as you build your pile, which should be kept moist, but not soggy.  In
, we typically get enough annual rainfall to keep any exposed pile wet enough.  Sporadic (the frequency is left to the discretion of the homeowner, but more increases the speed of the breakdown) turning of the pile is needed to keep oxygen flowing to the microbes.  The process of turning involves the use of a rake or pitchfork and means bringing the materials from the bottom to the top and vice versa.  Turning also helps to eliminate any foul orders from leaving the pile.  I can assure you that if you add the right materials and turn regularly, there is virtually no odor which can be detected (unless you were standing on top of the pile).  You may also add an extra layer of browns on top to help eliminate any smell.
It is possible for the process to complete itself in 30-60 days (sooner depending on temperature), leaving you with one of nature’s greatest growing mediums.  If you have any questions or comments, I welcome your input.


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