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Sunday, 14 January 2007

Consider Composting


The Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA)

By Elinor Teagueet

Consider Composting instead of dumping green waste.

The leaves are beginning to fall from the trees, and soon our green waste bins will be overflowing every week.

It seems such a waste to have someone else haul away the autumn leaves and yard debris that can so easily be recycled back into the garden as compost. Hauling uses energy and costs money. Buying compost to amend the soil costs money. Composting is one of those simple, small acts that can help save us and the community money.

Even a small compost pile tucked into a hidden corner of he garden can produce ready-to-use compost in two to three weeks when following the rapid composting method.

The first guideline has to do with the size of the materials. Chop or shred branches and twigs into 1/2- to 1 1/2-inch bits. Tougher leaves, such as southern magnolia leaves, should also be chopped up. Larger pieces are slower to decompose.

The second guideline deals with the volumes of brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) material to be added to the pile. There should be a lot more brown materials than green. A C/N ratio of 30 to 1 is best. A pile composed with this ratio will generate enough heat to cause the materials to decompose rapidly.

Brown materials include dry leaves, dry grass, straw and hay, sawdust, wood shavings, shredded newspapers and documents (not the color advertising sections, though) and dryer lint. Green materials include green grass clippings and garden trimmings. Do not add weeds with seeds, or diseased plants. The heat generated in the pile may not be enough to kill weed seeds or pathogens.

Some kitchen refuse can be composted. Coffee grounds and filters, crushed egg shells, tea bags and fruit and vegetable peelings are fine. Don't add fats, oils, meat, bones or cheese. Don't add carnivorous animal feces, kitty litter, charcoal briquets or toxic chemicals, either. Herbivore and bird droppings are OK.

The ideal size for a compost pile is 3 feet by 3 feet. Keep it moist, not soggy wet, and turn the pile often for aeration and to prevent overheating. A 1-inch PVC pipe drilled with holes and stuck through the center of the pile also will add air and hasten decomposition. Turn the pile every day, and in two weeks, you'll have a much smaller pile of sweet-smelling compost that can be dug into planting beds and used as a mulch.

An active compost pile gets a lot of help in decomposing from the insect world and from many microorganisms. There's no need to buy expensive "starters."

Within a few days, the pile will host a large population of mites, spiders, beetles and their larvae, slugs and snails, sowbugs and our special friends, the earthworms.

Bacteria and fungi also will aid the decomposition process. Some of these bacteria can be harmful to humans if they enter an open wound. Always wear sturdy gloves when working on the compost pile.

Don't add any new materials to the active pile. Just start another one to the side if necessary.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 14 January 2007 )
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