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Quick guide to composting

June 20, 2016
 

Composting is nothing new, but it has become more popular in the last few years as people strive to be better citizens of the planet.

Billi Haug, a master composter with Recycle Smart, says many people want to compost but may need help getting started. Here are some of her tips:

BIN COMPOSTING

When planning a traditional compost pile or stack, gather your materials. Youíll need 50 percent carbons, called browns, and 50 nitrogen, called greens.

Brown material consists of things such as shredded newspaper and dried leaves. Greens include grass and garden clippings, fruit and vegetable peels from the kitchen, coffee grinds and tea leaves.

Layer the material, starting with either the greens or the browns, alternating the layers and watering each layer lightly before adding the next. This will help you judge how much of each component you are adding. You can stir it later.

Donít add dairy products, meat, fish, bones or oily foods and donít put in large pieces of wood, diseased plants or weeds.

Continue adding materials to the pile until the temperature inside the pile rises. You can use a thermometer, but Haug says youíll be able to tell when the pile gets hot.

Once the pile is about 100 degrees, you can start turning it; once a week should be plenty. When it gets even hotter, 130 degrees and higher, stop adding fuel and turn the pile every other day for two weeks.

Within four weeks, youíll have completed compost, which should be pulled out of the bin and stored for a couple of weeks to cure.

MULCH, MULCH, MULCH

If you donít want to start a composting bin, you can gain some of the same advantages of composting by mulching.

Mulching is a way to protect the ground and feed the soil. In essence you are practicing composting, but the results ó the breakdown of organic material into a nutrient rich material ó will take place much more slowly.

An easy way to compost in this manner is to use grass clippings as a mulch. You can leave the grass clippings in place on a mowed lawn, instead of collecting them in a bag. The clippings are full of nitrogen and will feed the lawn, helping you reduce the amount of fertilizer you use.

You also can scatter grass clippings and leaves on planted areas. Add grass slowly, about 1 inch at a time, gradually accumulating about 3 inches. Leaves should be chopped ó Haug recommends running them through a leaf blower in reverse, or piling them on the driveway and running the lawn mower over them. Cutting them into smaller bits will prevent them from creating a blanket over the soil, which will prohibit water from reaching the ground.

Many things are considered mulch, even rocks and gravel. The rocks wonít provide nutrients to the soil, but they will help protect it.

WORM COMPOSTING

Having a worm bin is another way of composting kitchen waste. The worms eat it and then produce castings that are gardenerís gold when it comes to rich nutrients for the soil.

Like traditional bin composters, you can buy a worm bin or make your own. For instructions, search the web; for commercial ones, ask your sanitation district if it has special offers on worm bins.

Youíll need about a pound of compost worms ó red wigglers. You can buy them online or ask your worm composting friends to share some of them. They reproduce quickly.

Next, prepare the worm bed by tearing newspapers into long, inch wide strips. Then use your hands to fluff the paper. You should end up with about three times as much bedding, by volume. You donít want any paper sticking together.

After youíve fluffed, sprinkle the paper with water and continue to fluff it up, moistening the paper but not soaking it. Worms donít like their bed too wet.

Put about 3 inches of bedding in the bin and add your worms. Then give them food.

Use only kitchen scraps ó mostly fruit and vegetables, no meat or dairy. Donít feed them eggs, although crushed egg shells are OK. Worms prefer sweet food, including melons and other fruits. Chop it into small pieces and then cover the food and worms with more damp newspaper.

If you can smell the worm bin, something has gone wrong. It may be too wet, or you may have added food the worms wonít or canít eat.

In two to three months, you should be able to harvest the castings. Give yourself plenty of time for the task as it can be consuming.

Worm castings need another month or so to cure, and they can keep for a long time. Use them indoors and out by diluting them in water. A little can go a long way.

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune