How to make a compost pile
Sure, you can put yard waste out with the trash or recycle pine needles, pine cones and branches at community recycling programs.
But why not put garden debris to work in your yard?
Rotted garden waste, otherwise known as compost, is a rich source of nutrients and beneficial organisms that work hard to enrich any soil. It also performs an impressive balancing act, improving soil that is too sandy, heavy with clay, acid or too alkaline.
Purchased by the bag, compost can be expensive. Compost manufactured from garden debris otherwise headed for the garbage is free, or nearly so.
Commercial compost bins vary widely in price. A cheap alternative is a wood or wire frame constructed from scrap materials.
Any pile of plant debris will eventually turn into compost, whether contained or not.
Human intervention can improve the quality of the end product and speed up the process.
To create more than a pile of rotting debris, balance the ingredients with layers of “brown” carbon-rich material and “green” nitrogen-rich material. Add about twice as much brown as green.
Brown ingredients include leaves, straw, twigs, sawdust, dog hair, lint and shredded newspaper.
Green material includes grass clippings, young weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, manure (not from pets), feathers, blood meal, kelp meal, egg shells, coffee grounds and tea.
The smaller the pieces, the faster it will decompose.
A shovel full of rich soil, compost or manure supplies the microorganisms to start the compost cooking. Keep the pile moist and stir occasionally to aerate.
As the microorganisms do their thing – basically just living and reproducing – the compost pile heats up, from 100 to 160 degrees. Without high heat, compost will eventually form. However, weed seeds will survive and grow .
Despite the rotting process, a healthy compost pile does not stink.
Barnyard or ammonia smells indicate too much nitrogen or too much moisture. With more brown material and aeration, the smell will dissipate.
Too little nitrogen, and the pile won’t heat up.
There are a few absolute no-nos for healthy backyard compost.
Do not add dog or cat feces, which carries harmful parasites. However, manure from farm animals such as geese, rabbits, and horses, are rich additions.
Do not add meat, bone, animal fat or milk products.
A compost pile accessible to raccoons and bears should not contain any kitchen scraps.
Pine needles take a long time to decompose. They’re OK, but not in volume.
Do not add diseased plants, which will only spread the problem.
Despite the need to balance ingredients, composting is not rocket science. Plant materials will decompose whether the balance is exact or not.
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