If you’re like me, over the course of the summer I collect a lot of leaves, twigs, and sometimes even lawn clippings. If it feels like you are on a first name basis with everyone at the landfill, composting might be just the ticket.
Composting is the process that allows organic material to decompose releasing compounds beneficial to plant growth. It’s great for improving the texture of both clay and sandy soils—and that pile of leaves, twigs, or lawn clippings you might normally take to the landfill can help the rest of your garden thrive.
Brown material is high in carbon and green material contains more nitrogen. When composting try to form alternate layers, each a couple of inches thick.
- Brown Material Includes: dry leaves, hay, sawdust, straw, twigs, and woodchips
- Green Material Includes: freshly pruned leaves, lawn clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, and plant eating manure (Don’t use bones, meat scraps, dog or cat waste, diseased plant trimmings, dairy products, or weeds with seeds)
You can compost in a pile or in a bin, the bin may be faster, as it can retain compost accelerating heat better.
Add a handful of nitrogen for every 10 lbs of compost starter material. Shredding rough materials allows decay organisms more surface to colonize. Apply enough water to keep the pile moist and turn the pile weekly, perhaps with a spading fork, and check the temperature with a thermometer if you wish.
When composting, here are a couple of things to watch for:
- Rotten Odor: Aerate by turning more often, use more dry material or add less water.
- Ammonia Odor: Use less nitrogen or nitrogen containing green material. Add more brown material.
- The Pile is Too Cool: Turn/Aerate more often, add more water and nitrogen.
- The Pile is Attracting Rodents or Flies: Don’t use meat or dairy products, turn more often, perhaps use rodent controls, but do not use baits in the compost pile, only nearby.
Finished compost is dark and crumbly, with a pleasant earthy aroma. The time required depends on the internal temperature of the pile. The higher the better. The mulch is great as either a top dressing to the soil or incorporated into the soil.
If you’d like to learn more about composting, any of our expert gardeners will be happy to help. Just stop by any of our Western Garden Centers to get started. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook.