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For The Garden

Composting for Sustainability

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: November, 2013, Page 136
Wooden bins, such as this one, can be made inexpensively using shipping pallets or salvaged wood.


Sustainable living is a concept receiving plenty of attention as of late. An easy way to increase your sustainability bragging rights is to compost. About 30 percent of material sent to landfills is labeled as decomposable “green waste,” which includes grass clippings, dried leaves, landscape trimmings and kitchen scraps.

Composting these materials at home provides the following benefits for the environment:
• Reduced transportation costs, noise and air pollutants from truck collection and hauling
• Reduced methane (a greenhouse gas) emissions from organic matter decomposing in landfills
• Elimination of organic waste decomposing in landfills, which produces acidic liquid that may combine with other contaminants and seep into groundwater
• Less waste, which extends the life of landfills and reduces the need to build new ones

In addition, “homegrown” compost improves garden health and keeps money in our pockets by:
• Enhancing garden soil’s ability to hold moisture, thus reducing water use
• Containing beneficial soil microbes that break down organic matter, release nutrients and keep “bad” organisms at bay
• Improving soil structure, porosity and moisture retention
• Reducing fees for trash collection
• Reducing or eliminating the need to purchase soil amendments

If these many benefits don’t sway you, perhaps the goal of a trimmer waistline will. Turning a compost pile burns about 350 calories per hour (for someone weighing 150 pounds).

Making Compost
All organic matter piled in a corner or in a bin and ignored eventually decomposes, but following these pointers produces faster results:

1. Chop or shred all material. The smaller the pieces, the faster they decompose.
2. Use about two-thirds carbon materials and one-third nitrogen materials (see Compost Ingredients, opposite). Alternate the layers of carbon and nitrogen, or toss materials together like a giant stir fry.
3. Lightly hose everything as you mix so that it is moistened to the consistency of a damp sponge. Do not wait to hose down the completed pile from the top because water seeks a quick channel to the ground and most of the material won’t get wet.
4. Aeration and moisture are essential for fast decomposition, so turn and re-wet the material regularly.
5. Compost is ready to add to your garden when it is a rich, dark brown and crum- bles easily. It also will have a pleasant, fresh “earthy” aroma.

NITROGEN (“GREEN”) materials:

• Grass clippings
• Green foliage trimmings
• Spent annuals
• Eggshells
• Fruit and vegetable peelings
• Coffee grounds and tea bags
• Manure from barnyard animals (chicken,
cow, goat, horse, rabbit)

Carbon (“brown”) materials:
• Dry leaves and straw
• Woody plant trimmings
• Shredded paper
• Pine needles (Their resinous coating makes them slower to break down, so use a limited quantity with each batch.)

Do not add:
• Weeds with seed heads or runners, which can resprout in the garden
• Disease- or insect-infested garden plants or trimmings
• Meat, bones, grease, oil or dairy products, which become rancid and attract such undesirables as rodents and stray dogs
• Pet waste from dogs, cats or birds, which may contain pathogens transferable to humans
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