One of easiest ways to go green

  • Article by: CONNIE NELSON and JANE FRIEDMANN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2009 - 2:38 PM

Compost keeps yard and kitchen waste out of landfills and makes one of the best natural soil amenders.

HOW TO COMPOST

MIX THE MATERIALS

If you can, use a mix of "brown" materials (which provide carbon) and "greens" (which provide nitrogen).

OFF TO A GOOD START • START WITH 4 TO 6 INCH LAYER OF BROWNS, THEN ADD A LAYER OF GREENS.

• SPRINKLE WITH WATER.

• Add an inch or so of soil. Sprinkle with water. Repeat.

GIVE IT SOME AIR

The pile needs air to keep it "working." If your composter doesn't have air vents, stir it regularly.

RIGHT-SIZE IT

Size is important. If the materials are too small, the pile can compress and have poor air circulation. If materials are too big it will take longer to compost. Break twigs and chop leaves with a lawn mower.

ADD WATER

Keep your compost consistently moist but not soggy.

SKIP FERTILIZER

Fertilizer isn't necessary. But if you have little or no green material, you may want to add an organic source of nitrogen (such as aged manure, cottonseed meal or blood meal) or a high-nitrogen fertilizer to help materials break down.

SPRINKLE ON SOIL

Adding small amounts of garden soil (1 inch for every 8 to 14 inches of compost material) will boost microbial activity.

TURN REGULARLY

For faster decomposition, turn or mix your pile once or twice a month.

ALLOW FOR TIME

Compost is ready to use when it's dark, crumbly and has a nice, earthy smell. That can take several weeks to several months.

PUT IT TO USE

Mix completed compost into the soil before planting annuals and vegetables or spread a layer of compost on top of the soil around perennials, shrubs and trees.

WHAT TO USE

USE GREEN MATERIALS. . .

• Plant trimmings• Grass clippings • Vegetable and fruit scraps • Lake plants

. . . AND BROWN MATERIALS. . .

• Leaves • Straw • Wood chips • Woody material • Coffee grounds and tea bags • Aged manure • Sawdust (should be no more than 10% of pile)

. . . BUT DON'T USE

• Pet feces (can transmit disease) • Meat, bones, grease or oils • Eggs, eggshells or dairy products • Diseased plants • Weeds that have gone to seed (the pile may not get hot enough to kill the seeds) • Ashes (can rob the pile of nitrogen) • Any plants recently treated with herbicides

TYPES OF COMPOSTERS

A compost pile can be just that: a pile. But to save space, speed decomposition and improve aesthetics, consider making or buying a compost bin.

PORTABLE HOOP

A simple cylinder of galvanized chicken wire, hardware cloth or perforated plastic can be a composter. One or twice a month, lift off or undo the enclosure, move it a few feet away and turn the compost back into the cylinder.

STATIONARY ENCLOSED BINS

THESE READY-TO-USE BINS ARE AMONG THE MOST POPULAR KIND. MATERIAL CAN BE ADDED TO THE BIN AT ANY TIME. FINISHED COMPOST USUALLY IS REMOVED FROM THE BOTTOM.

TURNABLE container

Ideal for small yards. A "tumbler" composts quickly, especially if you turn it frequently. For quicker compost, process one batch at a time.

MULTIPLE-COMPARTMENT FRAME

Among the larger, more ambitious bins, this bin allows for good air circulation. Place material in first bin for 3 to 6 weeks. Remove slats and turn material into middle bin for another 4 to 8 weeks. Allow compost to cure in final bin.

For a free plan go to www.lowescreativeideas.com/idea-library/projects/Building-a-Compost-Bin-0109.aspx

Sources: University of Minnesota Extension, University of Missouri Extension, University of Utah Extension

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