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Composting 101

Did you ever wonder what to do with all of the leftover refuse from your yard, garden, and kitchen? We have some simple ideas that will not only utilize those items but also provide a beautiful soil mixture as a result of your work. This process is not only simple but cost efficient. You don't need an elaborate system or a "poop pit", as we call it. Here are a few tips from our traditional composting practice:

  1. Know what items you can compost. Composting material must be biodegradable, and it must contain things that are both usable and available to microorganisms. Some examples include: Feathers, grass clippings, leaves, hay, straw, newspaper, pine needles, weeds, wood ash, kitchen scraps, chicken or horse manure, animal bedding. (There are many more bioavailable items you can add to your list)

  2. For efficient composting, utilize a carbon to nitrogen ratio. What does this mean? Examples of carbon rich materials include hay, cardboard, leaves, sawdust, wrapping paper, or wood ash. Examples of nitrogen rich materials include kitchen scraps, green leaves or grass clippings, pruned green shrubs, animal manure, weeds, old flower bouquets. The carbon to nitrogen ratio should be around 30:1. If you have too much carbon, it will take longer to compost. Too much nitrogen and you may find some unpleasant odors emitted.

  3. Do not compost: Meat, oil, fat, dairy, diseased plants, coated paper, animal waste, charcoal, pesticides, pet litter, or pits of fruit.

  4. Place your compost pile as close to your garden as possible. Hauling garden refuse will not make you excited about the composting process. There is some school of thought that adding water to a dry pile increases compost time. We've never had to do that in our Midwest location. If you don't have a garden or potential spot for composting outdoors, there are numerous choices for "compost bins". A reminder that if you are going to compost indoors, you will want to be exceptionally cognizant of the nitrogen added to your bin. Making a compost "bin" outdoors is as simple as pounding five stakes in the ground and encircling it with chicken wire. You can secure the ends with zip ties. We like the aeration of the chicken wire. Watch for dryness and water to keep moist as necessary. Can you just make a pile? Yes, but we suggest enclosing three sides (not south) to keep the refuse together.

  5. Turning your compost is challenging in the winter in cold weather areas. What we try to do is make sure that when we are adding our nitrogen items, we also add some carbon. How many shipping boxes do you have? Those make adding the carbon easy. So, in theory, add your kitchen scraps and cover with a cardboard box, shredded paper, newspaper etc. As soon as or as long as the compost is able to be turned with a pitchfork, continue to turn it.

After a year or so, you will have what we call "black gold". The finished compost can be used anywhere in your garden. It should be uniform in color and texture. You may notice a stray "piece" from your composted materials, but don't worry! Those pieces will integrate into the new soil. You can use this compost to top dress a garden or amend the soil. Place a handful into a new hole for planting or spread it over an existing garden (even if unfinished) over the winter months.

Compost is able to keep soils rich in micronutrients to augment plant health. In addition, when you use healthy compost materials, you provide health to the plants by suppressing disease organisms present in every soil. We believe composting is a terrific way to utilize scraps from the yard, the kitchen, and the garden. Turning waste into pure gold is environmentally friendly and a huge cost savings.

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