Composting is a microbial process that
converts plant materials such as grass clippings and
leaves to a more usable organic soil amendment or mulch.
Gardeners have used compost for centuries to increase
soil organic matter, improve soil physical properties,
and supply some of the essential nutrients for plant
growth. Mulching refers to the practice of applying
a layer of materials such as compost, leaves, or grass
clippings to the soil surface in order to modify soil
temperature and moisture as well as control weeds and
Because many communities ban outdoor burning and have
laws that prohibit dumping of leaves and grass clippings
into landfills, composting and mulching have become
attractive ways to manage yard waste and recycle natural
materials. Grass clippings and leaves can be hauled
to city composting areas as one means of disposal. However,
many homeowners may find it more convenient and economical
to compost these materials in their own backyards. In
either case, the finished compost can be used as a mulch
or as a soil amendment to improve most garden soils.
The information in this bulletin will help you learn
how to build and maintain a compost pile as well as
how to use the compost in the yard and garden.
Trash is a major environmental problem in the United
States. The landfills where we store our trash are overflowing,
and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find space
for new landfills. Today organic materials, like waste
from our yards and kitchens, take up almost 1/3 of landfill
capacity. That organic matter is just begging to be
composted and reused – and that’s where
you can take some action.
You can do it in any backyard or small space. Composters
today are compact and clean. You simply collect your
food scraps and put your yard & plant clippings
in the compost bin. The composter will decompose the
matter and you’ll get nutrient-rich mulch that
you can use for potting or to spread among plants.
Almost any organic material is suitable for composting.
The pile needs a good mix of carbon-rich materials,
or “browns,” and nitrogen-rich materials,
or “greens”. “Browns” are primarily
yard wastes, like dried leaves, tree clippings, or wood
chips. “Greens” are grass clippings and
kitchen scraps, like melon rinds, lettuce, etc. Getting
the best mix of greens and browns is depends on the
composter model you use.
Starting a compost heap in your back yard is a great
way to help save the environment. Organic materials
are broken down naturally by bacteria and fungi. Composting
speeds up this process by providing an optimum environment
for the transportation of organic wastes to the nutrient-rich
end-product: humus. The whole process takes anywhere
from weeks to months, depending on the composition of
the pile. Composts add moisture and nutrients to your
soil and improve soil structure so you will have a healthy
and productive garden.
You can start your compost in a heap in the corner of
your yard in a well drained spot. You can also buy a
compost bin or make a wooden box for the compost. Just
remember to leave space between the slats of wood for
air circulation. Alternate layers of garden waste and
food scraps with a thin layer of soil. Keep it moist
and stir up the compost every 1 to 3 weeks with a shovel.
The smaller the pieces of food and yard waste the faster
it will decompose. Composting slows down in winter,
but you can continue to add organic materials. It’s
fine if your heap freezes, but if you want your heap
to continue decomposing throughout the winter, add an
insulating layer of plastic over the heap.
Use for Composting:
In general, yard wastes and organic foods are good:
grass clippings (if not recently treated with chemicals),
dead leaves, shredded twigs and branches, weeds (avoid
the seeds), flower cuttings, pruned material, all fruits,
vegetables, grains, egg shells, baked goods, tea bags,
coffee grounds, manure, hay and straw, even human hair
Do Not Use for Composting:
Roots of hardy weeds, dog or cat feces, diseased plants,
meat, poultry, fish, fat or oil, dairy products, bones,
highly fatty foods such as salad dressing, paper wastes,
large amounts of wood ash and any toxic materials such
as household cleaners. Also, meat and pet waste are
not proper for composting as they may contain bacteria
& could attract pests.