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Posted: Sep 21, 2009  15:58

Gold for the Garden


Harvestů such a satisfying time for gardeners who have lovingly tended their plots all season long, through weeds, pests and heat waves. Now is the time to reap the rewards and enjoy the bounty. It will soon be time to put those garden beds to rest for the winter months and if you don't already have a compost pile, now is a good time to consider one.

According to the EPA, 24 percent of the US municipal solid waste stream is composed of food remnants and yard trimmings. If these materials were diverted to another use that kept them out of the trash, a significant portion of the country's everyday waste could be recovered for reuse.

Composting diverts this waste. Remnants from your garden as well as grass clippings, food scraps and yard debris are all ideal materials to add to a compost pile. Starting one not only creates a great soil booster for your garden, it cuts down on your overall waste output as well.

If you want to start a pile but are intimidated by some of what you hear or read, relax! It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Understanding the basics of composting is a good place to start.

Composting is the natural process of decomposition sped up by a deliberate strategy in a concentrated environment to transform materials such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps, newspaper and more into a new material known as "humus" that can then be incorporated back into the soil.

Microorganisms break down the organic matter, producing heat, carbon dioxide, water and ultimately humus in the process.

Two basic rules to remember: First, compost shouldn't stink. If your pile does, there is most likely not enough oxygen circulating through the pile. It may be too compacted so you should aerate or turn the pile, or too wet so you should add dry material to soak up excess moisture. Secondly, a compost pile needs heat to decompose. If it isn't heating up - steam in the center is a good sign - it may be lacking nitrogen. Just add fresh grass clippings or manure. Piles can get too hot so turning the pile is important.

"Green" (nitrogen rich) and "brown" (carbon rich) materials are required to be in proper balance to ensure that the pile does not become anaerobic, which means that there is an improper chemical balance resulting mainly from a lack of oxygen. This imbalance will create a smell you'd rather not have!

Vegetable peelings, fruits, grass clippings, discarded plant material from your garden, coffee grounds, eggshells, shredded newspaper, straw and soon to be fallen leaves are all great ingredients for a compost pile. Manure from horses, cows, sheep, goats or chickens isn't a required ingredient but it speeds up the decomposition process. Do not add materials that contain animal products or oil and fats.

Water is the final ingredient that your pile will need to work properly and some experts suggest a moisture level equal to that of a wrung-out sponge.

Don't be discouraged; you don't need a chemistry degree or a fancy bin to start. Remember, organic matter decomposes with or without our coaxing. Simply making a little heap of leaves and grass in a corner of your yard is actually a perfectly reasonable way to compost. A simple bin does help keep your compost neat, ward off pests and accelerate decomposition. You can build your own or purchase one with lots of ideas online. Either way, it's definitely better than sending your compostable materials to the landfill and you'll eventually be rewarded with some fluffy, fertile, organic matter that you can incorporate back into your garden.

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Next week: The Trouble with E-Waste


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