The Greener Senior: Composting

By Mike Morris June 15, 2010 20:39

Composting is about as green as it gets. Using food scraps and yard waste to help the soil in your garden or flower bed not only creates a beneficial fertilizer, but also keeps unnecessary materials out of landfills.

Compost is created by the controlled decomposition of organic materials, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension. In other words, things like banana peels, egg shells and grass clippings can be broken down and put to good use in gardening or landscape projects.

Compost piles can be as simple as stacks of leaves in the corner of your yard, or as complex as expensive compost bins that are turned daily. Setting up a compost system is easy and flexible based on what works best for you.

The compost site at the Master Gardeners’ demonstration garden at Sonora’s Cassina High School is made from wooden pallets, which provide a frame and separates the different stages of compost.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps, coordinator for Tuolumne County’s Master Gardeners program, recommends making compost containers out of inexpensive hog wire, from which circular bins are easily made. A trash can with holes punched in the side and bottom can also be used as a compost bin.

Compost materials can be divided into two categories: green and brown. Green materials include grass, weeds, animal manure, and fruit and vegetable scraps. Brown materials include dead leaves, straw, and shredded newspaper. When creating a compost pile, start with a layer of browns, add a layer of green, then continue to alternate layers. Don’t use cheese, used kitty litter, diseased plants, or meat products, including bones, Miller-Cripps advises.

Coffee grounds and filters can be added. Combined with other organic matter, the grounds generate heat and will speed the composting process. Shops such as Starbucks or Day-O offer a free supply. Tea bags and attached strings and tags can also be composted.

A freestanding compost pile should be a minimum of one cubic yard (36 inches by 36 inches by 36 inches) to build up the amount of necessary heat. Be sure to allow air and moisture to enter your pile. Turn the pile periodically to speed decomposition, keep air circulating, and prevent excessive heat retention.

If bins are used, a series of three next to each other is useful, as material in one bin can be turned and moved to the next. The last bin will have garden-ready compost that can be hauled by wheelbarrow or bucket to gardening areas.

Compost can be used as mulch in a flower bed, which will help prevent both evaporation and weeds from sprouting. You can even sprinkle a quarter-inch of compost on your lawn to make it lush and thick, Miller-Cripps says.

Covering your compost pile with plastic or another material will keep out raccoons, skunks and other animals attracted to food scraps. Burying kitchen scraps inside the brown material of freestanding piles will help keep critters out as well. Wiring can be used to protect compost bins from cats and dogs.

The more often the pile is turned, the faster it decomposes and the quicker you can use it. When compost resembles dark brown, crumbly soil and stops producing heat, it is ready. Whether you’re planting tulips or tomatoes, your compost can then be put to good use.

© 2010 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Mike Morris June 15, 2010 20:39
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