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Fall Composting

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Very soon now gardeners will be wondering what to do with all the plant parts that need to be pruned off, bagged and disposed. A great alternative to seeing those landscape waste bags driving off every week is to recycle right in your own yard and benefit from getting all that free organic matter.

Composting is not something that takes a lot of time when you consider all the time getting that used to fill the landscape waste bags. Just like any good recipe, the ingredients for composting are few, browns, greens, a sprinkle of garden soil and water till moist, briskly stir, wait till done.

There's always spot in the yard to set up a compost bin or pile. Consider that dark corner that doesn't grow things so well or that spot behind the garage or garden shed. The simplest method is to create a compost pile. It will need to big enough to retain moisture and maintain a constant temperature. The base of the compost pile should be at least four feet square which will allow the pile to grow to about 3 feet in height. If you have the room a bigger base will mean a more even temperature over a larger area which will speed up decomposition even more. There are many variations on the traditional compost pile. You can build a more substantial structure using pallets, cinder blocks, lumber, whatever is low cost, visually acceptable or the purchase of composting bins which are now most often made from plastic that has been treated to resist UV decay.

The greens can be grass clippings as long as herbicides have not been used in several weeks, tops of annuals and perennials, shredded or clipped green plant stems and trimmed tree and shrub branches that are not too woody. The greens provide the nitrogen which will be used later. Browns include fall leaves that you have raked up or bagged with the mower, dried leaves from your perennials like day lily foliage for example. You may have some trimmings that have been sitting around that are now browned and they can be used too. The browns contribute the carbon in the composting process.

Other ingredients to "flavor" your compost can be fresh vegetable waste from the kitchen, coffee grounds and for a bit of color try rinsed and crumbled egg shells.

If you are building the compost pile or filling a bin for the first time, mix the greens, the browns and other materials as you go. This is where you add garden soil. The soil contains all those bacteria and other microorganisms that will be doing the breakdown of the plant parts into what we call organic matter. The organisms use that nitrogen to grow with increasing their numbers and feeding on all the organic matter turning it into composts as we know it. Like any other living organism, these bacteria need a constant supply of moisture and that is why we water the compost pile.

It is that constant temperature and supply of moisture that will quickly turn our yard waste into composts that we can then return to the garden beds. In the vegetable garden, just turn it in you prepare the garden soil. In more permanent beds use it as a mulch layer and it will disappear into the soil or time or you can work it in as you cultivate the beds.

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