Composting is a great way to add organic matter to the soil

There are many benefits to using compost in your yard, in flower beds, and on your lawn, and fall can be the perfect time to start a compost heap while you tidy up the garden and remove leaves from the lawn. If you start a compost heap in the fall, you can have fresh compost by the next spring’s planting time.

Composting is the controlled breakdown of organic materials into a valuable soil-like substance called compost. Using compost as a soil improver adds a small amount of nutrients to the soil and, more importantly, adds organic matter to your soil.

Increasing the amount of organic matter improves the soil by providing energy, nutrients, and a habitat for earthworms, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, which is critical to maintaining soil ecology.

Adding compost to the soil also improves aeration in heavier clay soils, allowing plant roots to penetrate the soil and drain excess water. When added to lighter sandy soils, compost improves the water holding capacity of the soil, making more water available for the plant roots.

Wooden pallets can be used to make containers for composting.

What can be composted?

While almost all organic materials can be composted, there are certain materials that are easier to compost and other materials that should be excluded from the compost heap. Some of the more common organic materials homeowners and gardeners have available for composting include grass clippings, leaves, plant and tree debris, fruit and vegetable waste, wood shavings, straw, coffee grounds and tea bags, sawdust, egg shells, and even that newspaper that you read !

Organic items such as diseased plant matter, animal or human waste, leftover meat and bones, and fatty or oily food waste such as cheese, mayonnaise and salad dressings should not be placed on the compost heap as they can cause odors and attract animals.

Compost is ideal as a soil improver for lawn and garden.

A mix of green and brown materials is required

Active decomposition of the compost heap requires the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. To achieve this ratio, a mixture of green and brown materials should be added to the compost heap and mixed intermittently.

Green materials contain more nitrogen than carbon and include items like clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, and plant debris.

Brown materials like dry leaves, straw, wood chips, paper products, and tree cuttings contain much more carbon than nitrogen.

Compost can be incorporated into garden soil or lightly sprinkled over existing lawns.

First steps

Place your compost heap in a level area with good drainage, adequate air circulation, plenty of sun, and close to the materials you plan to add to the pile.

Composting can be done in an open, unenclosed pile, or in containers made from braided wire fences, snow fences, or even wooden shipping pallets. The ideal size of a compost bin is approximately 3 feet high, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet deep.

To start the pile, create a base layer on bare ground using 15 to 12 inches of wood chips or chopped branches, then add alternate layers of 6 inches of moist green materials like clippings and food waste with 6 inches of layers of dry brown materials like fallen waste Leaves, straw, wood shavings or shredded newspaper. Sprinkle a small amount of garden soil or lawn fertilizer between the layers to speed up the decomposition process. Lightly pour the finished pile to the consistency of a damp sponge.

Manage compost heaps

After the pile is in place for a week or two, turn the pile over with a pitchfork or shovel and mix well. Rotating the pile every two to three weeks speeds up the decomposition process and allows the temperature in the center of the pile to reach between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a sign that microorganisms are actively breaking down the organic materials. If the weather stays dry for an extended period of time, add a small amount of water to the pile when turning to keep it moist.

It usually takes three to four months for a compost heap to decompose completely. When the compost is dark, crumbled in hand, and has a uniform texture, it can be added to the garden or lawn.

You can find more information about home composting online at: go.osu.edu/compostingathome.

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