How To
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How to Start a Compost Pile

It’s time to clean your refrigerator and before you know it you’ve got a pile of food that’s either showing signs of mold or, worst case scenario, has become completely unrecognizable. Rather than throwing these items in the trash where they will eventually be hauled off to a landfill, you can compost them. We’ll show you how to start a compost pile!

We’ve all heard about greenhouse gases and their connection to global warming. What we don’t necessarily realize is when we dispose kitchen, yard and garden scraps in our trash we’re helping create methane (a dreaded greenhouse gas that traps heat).  When these compostable materials are deposited in landfills they begin to release methane as they decompose because they’re not exposed to oxygen (a necessary element for breaking down organic materials).

One easy solution for limiting the amount of methane released in the atmosphere is composting. Whenever organic materials are composted they are broken down into an affordable and nutrient rich soil amendment.

Reasons to Compost

Composting is an easy way to help the environment. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away and should be composted instead.”

There are many benefits to composting:

  • It’s a natural and affordable alternative to chemical fertilizers.
  • Composting reduces landfill waste. Studies have shown one-third of landfill waste includes material that could have been composted.
  • Your kitchen and garden waste is recycled.
  • Helpful organisms are added to the soil whenever you use compost.

Formula for SuccessBackyard Composting

You have the space to start your own compost pile and are ready to begin doing your part to help the environment. What’s the next step? Well, here’s a simple formula to help you get your compost pile started today:

Brown Material + Green Material + Water = Nutrient Rich Compost

Brown materials are any items high in carbon. Ironically enough, most of the items that fall in this category are brown.  Some common items include shredded newspaper, untreated wood ash, straw, branches, dryer lint, and dry or brown leaves. These brown materials prevent your compost from smelling bad and becoming slimy.

Green materials are rich in nitrogen, which provides bacteria with the protein they need to break down the items you’ve put in your compost pile. If you have too much green in your pile, then you may start to notice an influx of undesirable insect and rodent activity. Plus, it will take much longer for your composted materials to break down. Most of the green items you add will be kitchen scraps, i.e. fruits and vegetables. Some other green materials include grass clippings, coffee grounds, and poultry, sheep, horse, goat, rabbit or cow manure. You should NOT add dog or cat droppings because they may contain bacteria harmful to humans.

Composting Tips

Brown and green materials should be added in equal amounts. If in doubt, it’s always better to have more brown than green. One way to gauge whether your compost pile is working properly is by checking the temperature. A compost pile that is well-balanced will be hot – around 120-150 degrees F. If you see steam rising from your the compost pile don’t worry. Your compost is well on its way to becoming a rich humus great for replenishing your depleted garden soil.

Water is another necessary ingredient that helps break down the organic matter in an efficient manner. If you don’t have enough moisture in your compost pile it will take a lot longer to break down. Rain will keep things moist in most instances, but feel free to lightly spray your compost with some water when it starts looking a little dry. You don’t want it to become too wet though either. If this happens, you may need to cover your pile with leftover plastic sheeting or untreated wood scraps.

Getting Started

There are a wide variety of compost methods, but the most basic option is to start a pile by layering brown and green items. Once you’ve chosen your location (optimally a well-drained, sunny location near a source of water), add your compostable materials, moistening the items as they are added. It’s okay to put your compost pile directly on the ground because contact with the earth encourages the presence of earthworms and other beneficial organisms. You should turn the compost pile every few weeks with a shovel or pitchfork to help add oxygen, which helps speed up the composting process.

If you have a smaller area, but are still interested in composting you could always buy a rotating compost tumbler. A more affordable option is to make your own compost bin out of a heavy-duty trash can. Compost tumblers, although more costly, are a great option because they sustain a high temperature even in colder weather. In a tumbler system the compost is kept enclosed and is relatively odor-free, which is well-suited to residential areas.

Keep a lidded container under the  kitchen sink or in another convenient location to store compostable materials. This process helps eliminate numerous trips outside. When this container is full you can add its contents to the pile and begin the process all over again.  If you’re worried things will start smelling from the accumulation of leftover scraps, you can purchase compost pails that contain air filters to minimize odors.

You’ll be amazed at how much you can compost once you get started. Help save our environment and start composting today!

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