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Gardeners can create compost pile with kitchen and yard waste

Grass clippings, dead leaves and apple cores full of nutrients for soil

POSTED: September 27, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Composting is a popular tool used by many gardeners to improve soil integrity and the quality and quantity of their plants.

“It adds texture and nutrients to soil and helps it retain moisture during dry periods,” said Russ England, a master gardener who manages the compost bin for Gardens on Green.

England, in fact, conducts a weekly compost lesson as part of the Hall County School Systems curriculum “Lifecycles: Knowing what to grow and eat” to second-graders. Master gardeners and county schools joined forces to conduct the hands-on assignments for students in the fall and spring. Last week, many students said the compost bin was their favorite lesson.

“Compost creates a better environment for your plants’ root systems, which makes them healthier,” England said.

For those who don’t know, composting is the process of breaking down organic waste material and combining it with garden soil to add nutrients and retain moisture. A basic compost pile consists of layering “green” and “brown” organic material then adding water. This can be done in a pile in the backyard or in a bin, which cuts down on the time it takes for the material to breakdown, discourages animals and pests, and keeps the process orderly.

Green material is high in nitrogen and activates the heat process in a compost pile. It is comprised of weeds, manure from plant-eating animals, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and other kitchen waste. Do not add meat or bones to a compost, because it will become rancid and attract animals, England advised.

Brown material is high in carbon and consists of old leaves, dead plants, sawdust, cardboard, straw or hay and animal bedding.

“You can put just about anything in your pile,” England said. “You eat part of a plant and the rest of it can be chopped up and put in your pile. Apple cores, banana peels, celery tops and carrot peelings are all good examples of that.”

Both types of material should be shredded before adding to a compost pile. This helps it break down quicker by raising the heat in the pile.

Bob Bradbury, a master gardener and beekeeper, suggests if you do not have a mechanical shredder, use a machete to chop up your materials.

Green and brown material should be layered. It is OK to start small and add to the pile but Bradbury suggests starting with a pile at least 3 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall.

He advised adding water if the pile is too dry; it should be about as wet as a towel that has been wrung out. Covering the pile with a lid or tarp can help keep the moisture and heat in.

Depending the ratio of green material to brown material, a compost pile can take weeks or months to properly decompose. This can be reduced by flipping or stirring the pile about once a week to aerate it.

A compost bin can be used to speed the process. These are available commercially or can be built at home. An easy homemade bin is to simply put compost materials into a plastic bin and drill holes in the sides to allow access.

For information on building your own bins, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website at www.epa.gov/compost/.

Compost shrinks as it rots and when it is ready to use, it will resemble topsoil and smell like earth. It should then be mixed with regular dirt before it is used.

Unless you buy a bin, composting has no overhead cost and can be quite beneficial to your plants, experts said. It adds a variety of nutrients to the soil such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. These not only help produce healthier plants but can also limit or eliminate the need to purchase chemical fertilizers.


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