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Grow your own plant food

Composting a cheap, green way to recycle waste products into fertilizer

POSTED: March 25, 2011 12:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

Peter Gordon, executive director at Elachee Nature Science Center, holds handfuls of compost created on site at Elachee.

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When it comes to going "green," many people do so by reducing, reusing and recycling their household paper, plastic and glass products.

But there's even more you can do and it starts with a look inside your trash cans and the bags of leaves that you haul to the curb to be carted away.

Composting can not only reduce your yard and food waste, it also creates a homemade alternative to buying "food" for your garden.

"Compost does a terrific job of fertilizing plants. Except for a little sweat equity, it doesn't cost anymore than you already spend on food," said Peter Gordon, Elachee Nature Science Center education director.

Elachee recently hosted a composting 101 workshop for area residents who are interesting in starting their own organic-matter, recycling pile.

To get started, you'll need something to hold your compost materials. The container should be about 1 cubic yard, or 3-feet by 3-feet by 3-feet, Gordon says.

"That's the ideal amount that you want to have going," he said.

You can purchase a specially-made compost bin from many home and garden stores, or you can make your own.

"You can make one pretty easily. You can buy a roll of pig wire and make it into an oval and dump your materials inside there," Gordon said.

"Or you can buy 4 wooden pallets and put them together in a square to make a container. You basically need some type of container to put things in and that allows air to circulate."

After you have a container, the next step is to find materials to throw onto the pile.

In order for materials to properly decompose, you have to
have the correct blend of carbon and nitrogen materials.

"Things like leaves, wheat straw and plant clippings are good carbon sources," Gordon said. "Food waste is a nitrogen."

Shredded, nonglossy paper and sawdust from untreated wood are also good carbon sources. Grass clippings would be considered a nitrogen.

"You don't want to put any meat or oily things in there. Or any pet waste. You want to have about a 15-to-1 carbon to nitrogen ratio," Gordon said.

"A lot of people worry about compost smelling, but if you do it right, it won't smell. If it does, you probably have too many (nitrogens) and not enough (carbons), so try adding more carbon."

In addition to occasionally, lightly watering your compost pile, you also want to turn it.

"Compost needs air. It speeds up the (decomposition) process if you turn it regularly, once every week or two," Gordon said.

"Turning allows all of the different products to mix."
If you are a diligent composter, you could have fertilizer quality matter in about six weeks.

"Composting is a wonderful replacement for fertilizer and for controlling yard and kitchen waste," Gordon said.

"It mimics what happens in a natural setting everyday. It's basically how things get recycled and returned to their basic sort of form so that nature can use them again."



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