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What to include (or not include) when making compost

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Fall will begin on September 22, and soon the leaves on our deciduous trees and bushes will turn beautiful colors and fall all over the yard. It's a lovely sight, but the leaves can smother your lawn. Why not put the leaves to good use and start a compost pile? It's an easy process, and if you include the right ingredients and don't mind waiting, the compost pile will turn into beautiful compost by late spring.

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If you build your compost bin well, it should not have any issues with unpleasant smells. Keep the following in mind when you build your compost bin.

  • Pick a location with good drainage. You don't want your compost to sit in water when the rains come.
  • Whether you choose to use a commercial compost bin or build your own, it's important to allow the pile to be at least 3' x 3' x3'. The compost must be able to hold moisture, heat and oxygen to break down the ingredients. If the bin is too shallow or not wide enough, the heat and moisture may escape.
  • Layer ingredients to maximize their effectiveness. By alternating brown leaves with the tomato plant waste, you allow the two ingredients to help decompose each other. Start with a layer of newspaper, maybe a 1/4" deep, to suppress weeds and grass. Then add alternative layers of leaves, green yard waste, organic fertilizer and soil. Limit the amount of grass cuttings, as they will pack tightly together, reducing the oxygen in the compost bin and cause the compost to smell.
  • Water thoroughly, allowing the water to soak the compost thoroughly.
  • Cover the compost to help retain the heat and keep excessive rain out.

Do you need to turn the compost? That depends on how fast you need the compost and how much you are willing to be inconvenienced by the work, bugs and decomposing matter. Unless you find that the compost starts to develop an odor because it became too wet, lost oxygen and became anaerobic, you can leave it alone and let the ingredients decompose at their own pace.

See the attached list for ingredients to build your compost pile. If your compost pile does turn sour due to excessive rains or other issues, see my earlier article "What is that stench in my compost bin and how do I get rid of it?"

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