How to Compost
As the leaves fall off your deciduous trees and shrubs with every slight breeze of the wind and gently fall to the ground that is our sign as gardeners that the fall season is here. Your deciduous leaves are an excellent choice to start composting the leaves. All the nutrients that you gave your plants during the year are harnessed in the leaves. By composting the leaves and other organic material you can make an excellent and inexpensive soil amendment, and avoid wasting natural resources. Composting is a natural form of recycling that continually occurs in nature. Studies have shown that by home composting you can divert an average of 700 pounds per household per year from the waste stream.
Beginners may ask: Where do I start? How do I begin to compost? The answer is very simple. The apple, carrot, potatoes you just peeled for lunch or dinner that is organic material that you can compost. The coffee grounds used to make your coffee in the morning make an excellent choice to compost or take the grounds and sprinkle on top of the soil of all your acid loving plants, such as Azaleas, Camellias, Rhododendrons and many others. Not a coffee connoisseur, but enjoy tea instead? The tea bag or tea leaves can be composted, too. When composting: do not include any oily fats, bones, meat or fish products as these items will attract unwanted wildlife to your compost area.
There are three components to composting: aeration of the compost, moisture, and carbon to nitrogen ratio. Aeration of the compost can be achieved by turning your compost. There are mainly two different types of composters. The compost tumblers, which you can turn by hand after adding new organic material or stationary composters when new compost is added one can use a pitch fork or compost turning fork to aerate the compost. The moisture of the compost should be between 40 to 60 percent. Natural occurring microbes and water begin the composting process. Microbes are microscopic live forms, bacteria and fungi, that break down or ingest organic material and the waste that is formed is called compost. Too much moisture slows down the composting by not allowing enough aeration or air to the microbes and compost. To little moisture the microbes and composting process slows down or becomes dormant. The microbes and compost need water to set in motion the composting process. The carbon to nitrogen ratio are the ingredients you will need to make your recipe for composting. When composting think of the process as following a recipe to make a dinner or dessert. The carbon to nitrogen ratio is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The ratio simplified is 3 to 4 pounds nitrogen to 100 pounds carbon. You can think of the carbon to nitrogen ratio as this: carbon is the food and nitrogen is the digestive enzymes. Carbon to nitrogen ratio can be viewed as organic green material and brown material. Below is a list of organic material that can be used in the compost bin. Each organic material is divided into carbon or nitrogen category.
Organic material that contains CARBON:
Leaves, shrub prunings (thick woody stems will take longer to break down), straw and hay (no seeds in the hay), pine needles (very acid use moderately unless the natural soil is very alkaline), wood ash, dryer lint, corn cobs and stalks (cut before composting), dried grass, egg shells (neutral).
Organic material that contains NITROGEN:
Table scraps (no meats or bones), fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, lawn and garden weeds (no weed seeds), flowers and cuttings, fresh manures: horse, chicken, rabbit, cow, coffee grounds (paper filters can be included), tea leaves (loose and bags), left over fruits and vegetables from the garden, egg shells (neutral).
This is the recipe for composting success thou the recipe does not have to be exact. Just throw everything into to the composter and stir.
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©Cheryl Ann Meola
Texas Certified Nursery Professional 1282