Compost is what occurs when yard waste, such as leaves, stems and dead flowers, are allowed to decompose naturally. Composting has become a more important practice in the last several years as more and more municipalities ban yard waste from landfills. Composting this waste not only helps the environment by keeping it out of the landfill, it yields a terrific material that improves the quality and structure of the soil, making it easier to grow healthy plants.
Here’s how to start:
- Locate the compost pile in an area of the yard that allows access with a wheelbarrow so that you can easily dump the debris. The more sun the area has the faster the plant debris will be ‘cooked,’ or turned into compost. The compost pile can be a free form, without walls, or you can create a contained pile with fence, skids or other materials.
Add plant clippings to compost pile.
- Keep the size of the pile manageable and efficient, usually about 3 feet by 3 feet. That size also allows for better cooking. Piles that are too big tend to cook more slowly.
- Add an 8- to 10-inch-thick layer of leaves or other dried yard waste. This is carbon matter.
- Add a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of nitrogen matter, such as manure, green stems or flowers, or untreated grass clippings.
- Add a couple of shovelfuls of soil or compost between the layers, which helps the pile heat up and start processing.
- Moisten the pile between layers. The water also helps the process get started. Try to keep the pile moist, but not soaking wet.
- Repeat the layering as needed.
- Turn the pile once a month. If the pile smells bad, turn the debris more frequently to add oxygen to the mix. No need to cover the pile. Regular turning can be done as long as the pile is not frozen.
That’s it. The smaller the bits of material added to the pile, the quicker it turns to compost. Normally, it takes four to six months for yard waste to turn to compost.
The compost, which has a pleasant earthy smell, will have a loose, humus texture when it’s fully cooked. Use the compost as a soil amendment when making new beds, add it to planting holes for perennials or annuals, or spread it on the soil surface around plants. Eventually, the compost works with the existing garden soil to create an ideal growing condition for all kinds of plants.
For more information about composting, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website or contact your area extension agent.