Composting at Home

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Composting is a natural process of decay. At its simplest, requires only four things:

1. Organic material 
2. Moisture
3. Oxygen
4. Time

Yard Wastes:

To assist the composting process, the natural decomposers – microbes – need to be fed and cared for. A properly balanced diet for composting is a thorough mix of fresh (green) and dried (brown) plants – such as fresh grass clippings and old leaves. The more compost material that is chopped or shredded, the faster it will decompose. Gather and mix the shredded materials together in a pile so that about two thirds is brown and one third is green. Add just enough water while building the pile to ensure it stays about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. The compost pile should be large enough to hold the heat. About three to four feet on a side is ideal. This size insulates but still allows sufficient oxygen throughout. Turn the pile occasionally to encourage air flow and to add water as needed to maintain dampness. Given a little time (as little as four to five weeks), you too can create rich, crumbly compost in your own backyard!

Kitchen Wastes / Food Scraps:

Although food scraps are organic materials, do not include them in an open compost pile. Left in the open, they tend to attract scavenger animals such as squirrels, rats or flies. Vegetable kitchen wastes are best handled in one or more of the following ways:

Pit – Bury food wastes in holes dug in the garden. Cover with at least eight inches of soil.

Trench – Establish three rows one to two feet wide. In row one, plant this year’s crops. In the adjacent row, bury food wastes. Row three is used as a path. Rotate these rows so that the second year, row one becomes the scrap row, row two the path and row three the food crop row.

Covered Compost Bin – A well secured, sturdy cover will discourage pests from robbing your compost. Try to bury the vegetable waste as well.

Worm Bin – Rather than bury the wastes you can also establish a worm bin using compost or manure worms. In this system, set up a container (commonly a box about 3'x2'x1'), mix in shredded newspaper or dried leaves, a little water, food scraps and worms, and close the lid. The worms will do the rest. The simplest method to manage a worm bin is to add food scraps in one half of the bin for about three weeks. Then start working in the other half, again starting with layers of paper or leaves, food and worms. The worms still in the far end will finish their supply and move into the fresher foods leaving their castings behind. These castings can be harvested and used as fine compost.

If you want more information on worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, read Mary Appelhoff’s Worms Eat My Garbage published by Flower Field Press.

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