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Resource Recovery Service

Home Composting

What i s Composting? Composting i s the process of converting raw organic material t o humus. Wastes of many kind are decomposed i n t o soil-enhancing remains. Composting i s a simple, natural procedure. Regardless of where you l i v e , o r how large or small your property, you can compost.


Why Compost? Compost i s considered among many t o be the gardener's best f r i e n d . You w i l l discover t h a t no amount of money spent on chemical f e r t i l i z e r s and s o i l conditioners can possibly do as much f o r your s o i l as the free materials you have been throwing away. Compost conditions the s o i l . I t w i l l l i g h t e n clay s o i l , or make sand s o i l more able t o r e t a i n moisture. The organic matter provides any s o i l w i t h a balanced supply of minerals, i n c l u d i n g v i t a l trace minerals. Because composting i s a form of r e c y c l i n g i t has the same b e n e f i t s as other types of r e c y c l i n g . These include the reduction of land, a i r , and water p o l l u t i o n .

Materials f o r Composting S t a r t w i t h a layer of leaves, grass c l i p p i n g s , weeds or straw. (Make sure the grass c l i p p i n g s have not been treated w i t h a weed k i l l e r . The weed k i l l e r may stay potent and k i l l the plants the compost was intended t o help.) Add such items as animal manure, kitchen scraps, and garden refuse. Such wastes might include f r u i t and vegetable peelings, egg s h e l l s , coffee grounds, faded flowers, old plants, wood ashes, and f l o o r sweepings. Do not add meat or bones. Shredding of materials speeds up the composting process.


Arranging the Materials Layer the materials t o be composted. When a layer i s about 5-10" deep, s p r i n k l e an inch or two of s o i l on top. Some gardeners also dust the layer w i t h lime t o help avoid odor. Moisten the layer w i t h water, but do not get i t soggy. Tending the Compost The actual work of composting i s done by natural decay-causing organisms. Three things t h a t w i l l k i l l them or slow them down are: a) Excessive heat b) Lack of oxygen c) Excessive wetness or dryness To avoid these: a) Keep the p i l e out of d i r e c t sun b) Turn the p i l e occasionally t o allow a i r c i r c u l a t i o n c) Choose a l o c a t i o n where water w i l l not stand or seep i n , but keep the material moistened. Make the p i l e concave t o prevent water from running o f f .

The Process of Decay I n a few days, the p i l e should begin t o heat up i n the center. I t i s t h i s heat t h a t k i l l s harmful bacteria and weed seeds. When i t begins t o cool o f f , i n a week or two, t u r n the p i l e w i t h a garden fork t o c i r c u l a t e a i r and d i s t r i b u t e moisture evenly.- Cover i t again w i t h leaves, e t c . , and i t w i l l heat up again. Repeat t h i s process u n t i l the p i l e no longer heats up a f t e r t u r n i n g . The p i l e should now be of uniform color and texture. The compost i s dark and crumbly and ready t o use.


Avoiding Problems To avoid possible problems w i t h odor, pesky f l i e s , or other undesirable animals, remember these simple p o i n t s : a) Do not add meat or bones t o your compost p i l e . They tend t o give o f f a strong odor and don't decay w e l l w i t h other materials. b) Be sure t o cover your layers of waste w i t h s o i l (and lime i f you p r e f e r ) . c) Do not l e t the p i l e get soggy.

Ways t o Use Compost a) Work i t i n t o the s o i l of flower beds or vegetable garden before or a f t e r p l a n t i n g . b) Mix i t w i t h the s o i l when p l a n t i n g new trees and shrubs. c) Use i t as mulch around trees and shrubs. d) S i f t i t through a coarse screen and use i t t o top dress your lawn.

Compiled and e d i t e d by Marge F o l k r i n g a f o r the West Michigan E n v i r o n m e n t a l A c t i o n C o u n c i l . Produced by Kent County Resource Recovery

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Home composting basics