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Knowledge to Grow by Karen Weiland - Composting

Believe it or not, there’s treasure to be had in your yard trash and kitchen scraps.  Composting is a convenient and practical way to use waste such as leaves, grass clippings, thatch, plant trimmings, fruit and vegetable peelings, eggshells and coffee grounds. Finished compost will improve the quality of almost any soil, and for this reason it is often considered a soil conditioner.

The breakdown of organic matter in your compost pile is facilitated by numerous bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes. These “chemical decomposers” change the chemistry of organic wastes. The macroorganisms or “larger decomposers” are ants, nematodes, spiders, slugs, earthworms and flies to name just a few. Because they grind, suck, bite and chew materials into smaller pieces they are considered the “physical decomposers” of a compost pile.

Your compost pile can be placed in some type of structure such as a woven wire bin, a concrete block bin or a bin made from wooden pallets. It can also be left in an open pile. It’s best to place your composting site in a shady spot with protection from the wind so it will not get excessively hot and dry. A good sized compost pile is about 4-5 feet in diameter and about 4-5 feet deep.

It is important to have a good balance of materials in your compost pile. This is done by using layers: alternating carbon-rich materials such as leaves, straw and wood chips with nitrogen-rich materials such as fresh grass clippings and food waste. The right carbon to nitrogen ratio affects the rate of decomposition and water and oxygen are important ingredients too. A tip to remember is to use from ¼ to ½ high-nitrogen materials in your compost pile. Too much nitrogen in a pile will likely give off an ammonia smell. If you have too much carbon in a pile it will not produce the heat needed for decomposition. Nitrogen is needed by the microbes in order to break down and make use of the carbon that is found in organic matter.

Use a pitchfork or shovel to turn the pile once or twice a month to keep the materials supplied with oxygen and to bring the outer contents to the center for heating. The center should reach a temperature of 130 to 140 degrees F when it is working properly. Check the pile occasionally for watering needs.

Compost has so many uses. Adding it to your garden increases the water-holding capacity, aeration and nutrient exchange sites in the soil. It can be added as an organic media in potting soil or for starting seeds of garden plants.

Recycling is very important to me as it is to many other people. This is one way of reducing the waste that goes to our landfills.

As always, Happy Gardening!

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.