Home Composting De-mystified

18 Sep

Home Composting De-mystified

A guest blog post by our friend, Karen S. Klingenberger.  Consumer Horticulture Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County.

Why don’t more people try home composting? Some publications make it sound like a science experiment and that can put people off.  But really – Compost HAPPENS – so home composting is simply us doing our best to imitate nature and perhaps speed up the process a bit. Fall is the perfect time of year to get those yard and kitchen wastes started toward creating a wonderful soil amendment.

 Here are the basics:

Select a location in your yard that will be convenient for you (so that you will actually USE it) and away from your neighbor’s view (so that they won’t complain about it.) Decide if you want a plain old pile or would prefer to use a bin.  Bins can be as simple as a length of snow-fencing fastened into a circle or as elaborate as a three-bin turning system.  Plastic commercial units can be found in home improvement stores or on-line, but these tend to be too small for the average gardener.  Keep in mind that whatever you choose should ideally be at least a yard in diameter in order to retain heat.

This time of year, you can start the pile with fallen leaves or other ‘brown’ materials such as straw, twigs or even newspaper (not glossy).  If you can shred these materials with a shredder or mower, they will break down faster.

Mix in the ‘green’ materials – grass clippings, spent garden plants, fruit and vegetable peels or cores.  No cooked foods, dairy products or meat so you don’t attract rodents – but tea leaves, coffee grounds and eggshells are fine.  Again, the smaller the pieces, the faster they’ll ‘cook’.

Three bags of brown material to one bag of green has been suggested as the best ratio, but really it’s hard to do it wrong.   Add water while you’re adding materials.  The micro-organisms and insects need water and air to keep working.  You’re looking for the materials to be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Turn the contents occasionally with a garden fork (once every month or two would do) to add air and add more water at that time if the contents seem dry. The more you work your pile, the faster you will make compost!  You’ll know your compost is “finished” when you can’t identify any original material in the pile.

Compost piles get a bad rap that they smell bad.  If they do, it’s because they don’t have enough air. Turn it to get more air inside the pile.  A pile that has a good mixture of brown plus green, and air plus water will not smell bad – it should smell like fresh earth. 

How will you use your finished compost? Add it to your sandy soil to help it retain water.  Add it to your clay soil to help it drain better.  Add it to your perfect soil to make it even more perfect!  There is no soil that will not benefit from the addition of compost.  I add compost to my vegetable beds every fall after harvest and use it to make new gardens.

In September I created a 4’x8’ raised bed and filled it entirely with the contents of a 3’x3’ bin that has been working since last fall. I will cover the bed with leaves sometime in October and in the spring I expect to have nice friable soil in which to grow more vegetables.  I didn’t have to purchase soil from an unknown source or dig it up from another part of my yard. And since I made the compost myself, I know exactly what went into it.  Now that’s real peace of mind!

You can easily turn your organic waste into a FREE soil amendment and use it with pride!  For more information, call our CCE Gardening Helpline at 473-5335, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to noon.  Information on building compost bins can be found at: http://www.mycce.org/Monroe/ click on Horticulture then Home Gardening then Factsheets.

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