Composting Information

Written by Sarah Provost
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An average family produces more than 200 pounds of kitchen waste every year, taking up about one third of the space in America's landfills. By composting your kitchen and yard waste, you can help the environment, plus get an endless supply of free, rich fertilizer for your garden. This is certainly a win-win proposition.

What Is Composting?

Compost, or humus, is the product of nature's system of breaking down organic materials. Small organisms living in the soil break down materials such as vegetable peelings, grass clippings and other organic materials to create a light, nutrient-rich material similar to what you might find on a forest floor. We can speed up the process considerably by managing the composting process.

Composting can be done in a simple heap, ideally about three cubic feet, or in a bin or even a large closed container such as a garbage can (although that will be slower because it isn't in contact with the soil). Two basic types of materials can be composted: those that are "green," or nitrogen-rich, and those that are "brown," or carbon-rich. Green materials include vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, lawn clippings and eggshells. Brown materials include dead leaves, straw, paper and wood chips. Do not compost meat or dairy products.

The pile is built up in layers, with any foodstuffs on the inside. For instance, you might have layers of paper from your office shredder, coffee grounds, dried grass clippings, melon rinds, and straw. There should be a higher proportion of brown materials than green, to prevent odors. As the bacteria do their work, the center of the pile will generate heat as a side product of decay. Turn the pile once a week or so to be sure it always has a good supply of oxygen to keep the process going. As you add more composting material to the top of the heap, you can start taking the "brown gold" from the bottom and using it to make your garden very, very happy.

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