July is Composting and Yard Care Month!
What is composting? Composting is a controlled process of decomposition of organic material. Naturally occurring soil organisms recycle nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients as they convert the material into humus.
Benefits of composting: Composting is a convenient, beneficial and inexpensive way to handle your organic waste and help the environment. Composting reduces the volume of garbage requiring disposal, saves money for you and your community in reduced soil purchases and reduced local disposal costs, and enriches the soil. Using compost adds essential nutrients, and improves soil structure, which allows better root growth and increases moisture and nutrient retention in the soil. Plants love compost!
What you should compost? Yard wastes such as leaves, grass clippings and weeds make excellent compost. Fruit and vegetable scraps, plus food wastes such as coffee grounds, tea bags, and eggs shells, can be composted. To keep animals and odors out of your pile, do not add meat, bones, fatty food wastes (such as cheese, grease and oils), dog feces or cat litter, and diseased plants. Do not add invasive weeds and weeds that have gone to seed to the pile.
Elements of a good compost pile: With these principles in mind, you can convert your organic wastes into resources by turning your spoils to soil.
Organic Material. Organic material contains varying amounts of carbon and nitrogen which nourish the organisms naturally present in your compost pile. The critters need both carbon and nitrogen. An easy way to provide both of these is to remember that brown, woody materials, such as autumn leaves, are high in carbon while green, moist materials, such as grass clippings, are high in nitrogen.
Air. The compost critters need oxygen, just as we do. Lack of oxygen will slow down the composting process and cause odors. Turn your pile, fluff it with a hoe or compost turning tool, or build air passages into the pile with cornstalks to provide oxygen to the organisms.
Moisture. Compost organisms need a moist environment. The pile should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge, but not dripping wet. Make sure leaves are damp when you add them to the compost pile because they will not break down if they are dry. Since moisture evaporates as the pile heats up (a sign of active composting), let rain and snow replace it, or add water during dry spells. A cover helps retain moisture in hot weather.
- The Biodegraders. Nature has provided an army of workers who specialize in decomposing organic material. These "critters" - bacteria, fungi, molds, earthworms, insects and other soil organisms - eat all types of organic material and in the process convert nutrients into a form plants can utilize. The process of composting is simply a matter of providing the soil organisms with food, water and oxygen. They do the rest.