Daily Camera (Boulder)

Home com­post­ing

- By Sharon Bokan Ecology · Lifehacks · Gardening · Hobbies

Trees are be­gin­ning to lose their leaves, your gar­den plants are done and if you don’t have ac­cess to com­mer­cial com­post­ing pickup, you may want to try com­post­ing in your yard. Com­post­ing is not as dif­fi­cult or as time con­sum­ing as you think. Com­post­ing pro­vides or­ganic ma­te­rial to im­prove soil and re­duce wastes that reach land­fills by 20 to 30 per­cent or more.

You do not need a fancy com­post bin un­less your home­owner’s as­so­ci­a­tion has a covenant re­quir­ing one. A sim­ple pile with some space to be able to turn it is all you need. Ma­te­ri­als that you can put into a pile in­clude leaves, gar­den waste, spent blos­soms and vegetable scraps. Ma­te­ri­als that you do not want to put in the pile are milk prod­ucts (cheese and yogurt), meat scraps, eggs and pet wastes. These ma­te­ri­als can make the pile smell, at­tract an­i­mals and spread dis­ease. If you live in an area where bears visit, you should put only yard wastes (mi­nus any fruit such as ap­ples) in the pile so that you don’t at­tract them to your yard. Lo­cate the pile so that it is con­ve­nient to add to, turn and where water is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble.

Com­postable ma­te­ri­als are di­vided into brown (car­bon source) and green (ni­tro­gen source) ma­te­ri­als. Brown ma­te­ri­als in­clude straw, dry veg­e­ta­tion and leaves. Green ma­te­ri­als in­clude kitchen scraps, grass clip­pings, cut­tings from perennials and gar­den wastes. When build­ing the pile, you need a 30 to 1 ra­tio of brown ma­te­rial to green. This works out to ap­prox­i­mately an equal vol­ume amount of each. Shred or cut up the ma­te­ri­als to ex­pose more sur­face area and ac­cel­er­ate the process. Place about four inches of brown ma­te­rial to start the pile and then place about four inches of green ma­te­rial on top and mix the two lay­ers to­gether thor­oughly while wa­ter­ing the ma­te­ri­als. Com­post should be like a wet sponge that when squeezed gives just a few drops of liq­uid. Con­tinue adding lay­ers, mix­ing and wa­ter­ing un­til all the ma­te­rial is used. The min­i­mum size for an ac­tive pile is

3’ x 3’ x 3’. The pile is now fin­ished. You do not need to add a com­post ac­ti­va­tor be­cause the ma­te­ri­als have enough mi­crobes to start the de­com­po­si­tion process. A prop­erly con­structed pile should reach over 100 de­grees in the cen­ter within 24 hours.

Within a week you will no­tice that the pile has shrunk to about half the size that is was. This is due to the mi­cro­bial ac­tion and com­paction. In or­der to keep the ac­tion go­ing, you need to pe­ri­od­i­cally turn the pile and add ad­di­tional water. Turn the pile so that the out­side ma­te­ri­als be­come the in­te­rior part of the pile. The two most im­por­tant re­quire­ments for de­com­po­si­tion mi­crobes are air (pro­vided by pe­ri­odic turn­ing or aer­a­tion) and water. In our dry cli­mate, in­suf­fi­cient water is usu­ally the rea­son that a com­post pile is not ac­tive. An ac­tive com­post­ing sys­tem should have tem­per­a­tures be­tween 90 to 140 de­grees in the pile cen­ter. Con­tinue turn­ing or aer­at­ing the pile ev­ery four to seven days un­til the com­post is fin­ished to your lik­ing (thor­oughly com­posted for a soil ad­di­tive or par­tially com­posted to use as a mulch).

Prob­lems that you may en­counter with the pile are:

Smells – am­mo­nia smell due to ex­cess ni­tro­gen, add more brown ma­te­rial; rot­ting smell, the pile needs to be turned (anaer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity) or pile is too wet, add dry ma­te­rial

Pile not heat­ing up - over wa­ter­ing or in­suf­fi­cient ni­tro­gen or turn­ing the pile too fre­quently or pile is too small

Ma­te­ri­als not break­ing down - all ma­te­ri­als com­post faster the smaller they are Com­postable gar­den waste, brown (Car­bon source) ma­te­rial

Sharon is the Small Acreage Co­or­di­na­tor at Colorado State Univer­sity Ex­ten­sion Boul­der County. For more in­for­ma­tion call 303.678.6176, e-mail sbokan@boul­der­county.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boul­der.

 ?? (Photo cour­tesy: CSU Ex­ten­sion Boul­der County). ?? Com­post­ing pro­vides or­ganic ma­te­rial to im­prove soil and re­duce wastes that reach land­fills by 20 to 30% or more.
(Photo cour­tesy: CSU Ex­ten­sion Boul­der County). Com­post­ing pro­vides or­ganic ma­te­rial to im­prove soil and re­duce wastes that reach land­fills by 20 to 30% or more.

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