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Key Ingredients for Great Compost

Key Ingredients for Great Compost

One of the great aspects of composting is that the key ingredients are often things that you’d be tempted to throw away. So, with just a little effort, you can contribute less to the trash stream (good for the environment) and make great compost (good for your garden).

Compost is created when you provide the right mixture of key ingredients for the millions of microorganisms that do the dirty work. These microorganisms will eat, multiply, and convert raw materials to compost as long as the environment is right. The environment doesn’t have to be absolutely “perfect,” so you don’t need to be a microbiologist or chemist to have successful compost. You need to provide: food, water, and air.

The water and air are easy. The food is a little more complex. Food for your little micro friends consists of two classes of materials, simply referred to as “Greens” and “Browns.” Green materials are high in nitrogen, while brown materials are high in carbon. The green materials provide protein for the micro bugs, while the brown materials provide energy.

Typical green materials are:
  • Fresh (green) Grass clippings
  • Fresh manure (horse, chicken, rabbit, cow)
  • Kitchen scraps (fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags)
  • Weeds
  • Green leaves
  • Leftover fruits from the garden
Typical brown materials include:
  • Brown, dry leaves
  • Dried grass
  • Cornstalks (shredded)
  • Straw
  • Sawdust (in moderation; see below)

 

Just like us, the little microorganisms need a balanced diet, along with water and air. Too much, or too little of any ingredient significantly reduces their productivity. It is hard to have too much of the brown category. As noted earlier, leaves in the forest decompose without significant quantities of “green” components (although animal droppings do contribute to the green part of the mix) – but, the decomposition takes a little longer.

Too much green is usually the problem. A pile of kitchen garbage will never become useful compost; it simply becomes a smelly pile of garbage. Landfills are not composting sites. Most municipal composting operations begin with the huge quantities of dry leaves that are collected each fall.

A good mix of browns and greens also helps the pile maintain the right amount of moisture and air. A pile that is 100% grass clippings, for example, will quickly become a matted, soggy mess, with too much moisture and too little air. It will decompose, quickly at first, but then stall. Mix in some dry leaves, and you’ll have a significantly more efficient mixture. The dry leave help maintain air pockets within the pile and also provide a more balanced diet for the bacteria and fungi that cause the decomposition.

For more information about composting or to learn more about our Trash Knight garbage system, please visit www.trashknight.com.

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When and How to Use Compost

Tips for when, where & how to use compost:

Soil Building – Compost is the single best additive for good, even great, garden soil. It improves tilth, fertility, water retention for sandy soils, water drainage for clay soils, and improves your soil’s disease fighting characteristics. Add compost in spring and fall, and till it in.

Garden Fertilizer – Compost can be used throughout the season as a garden fertilizer. Simply side dress vegetables and flowers for a slow-release food source and improved disease prevention.

Lawn Feeding – Screened compost (compost that has been sifted to collect the smaller particles) can be applied as a lawn fertilizer throughout the season. It will provide a wonderful slow-release food as well as assist in lawn disease prevention. And, given that the nutrients aren’t as concentrated as in chemical lawn foods, you’ll avoid the stripes that can easily occur when incorrectly applying chemicals. You’ll avoid chemical run-off, and you’ll save money. Your lawn will be alive, with earthworms (natures aerators) and beneficial microbes.

Compost vs. Mulch – Mulch is any material that is applied to the garden’s surface to prevent weed germination and to reduce water evaporation. Compost will help build the soil, and it will help retain moisture; but, it won’t do a lot to prevent weeds. It’s an ideal growing medium; so, weeds are likely to be very comfortable in it. Use shredded leaves for mulch, or a combination of shredded leaves and lawn clippings. The combination of lawn clipping and shredded leaves creates an attractive mulch that won’t blow away (as leaves alone tend to do) and allows water penetration (as grass clippings alone tend to matt and repel water).

Potting Mix (seed starting, potted plants) – Compost can be used to create a very good seed starting mix, or it can be added to potting soil to create a nutrient-rich mixture. Most commercial potting mix is made from Canadian peat moss, which is virtually void of nutrients, so the addition of good compost provides a real boost. “hot” compost, which has been produced at higher temperatures, is less likely to contain a lot of weed seeds. However, some of the fungi in compost may contribute to “damping off” of seedlings when compost is used for seed starting. To be safe, you should consider “sterilizing” the compost before using it as a potting mix. You can sterilize compost by microwaving it, baking it in an oven, or pouring boiling water over it. Of the three methods, the boiling water treatment is the neatest and cleanest. Simply put the compost in a large flower pot and soak it with boiling water from a teapot or saucepan.

For more information about composting or to learn more about our Trash Knight garbage system, please visit www.trashknight.com.

“Plant a Garden at School or Home”

A month of Earth Day inspired posts…visit http://act.earthday.org to make your pledge!

Planting a garden at a school or at home is recognized universally as one of the best ways to teach children of every age the life sciences, to inspire a greater desire for whole foods and generally to reconnect them with Nature.

Since 2007, Earth Day Network has helped green over 100 schools, including many school gardens.

How to start (Information from http://urbanext.illinois.edu/firstgarden/)

Part of gardening is making a list of what you will need. Are there tools you need to get? Will you borrow or buy them? What seeds and plants do you want? Make a list of the items you need. Check whether you have them or need to get them. Then you can figure how much money you will need to plant a garden. Click here for a printable PDF version.

Not everybody starts planting all on the same day. If you live in Northern California you might start planting some time in March or April. But if you live in Florida or Southern California you might be able to plant things all year round. So, what guides us in knowing when it’s safe to start planting certain plants? The clue is called climate zones and it is based on frost-free dates for the area of the country or state where you live.

There is a frost-free date in the spring that tells you when it’s safe to start planting tender vegetables or plants that do not like frost. There is also a first-frost date for fall that tells you when it’s going to get too cold for a lot of things to grow well. The number of days between these two is called the growing season.

Some plants really like the cold and do well. Other plants are real warm weather lovers and don’t even like a slight chill. With more experience, you’ll soon get to know which plants like it cold and which ones like it warm.

To find out the frost-free dates for your part of the country or state, visit a library, garden center or Extension office and look up or ask about the frost-free dates in your area. You may also see large maps with bright colors and numbers from 1 – 11 on them. These are hardiness zone maps. You’ll see that zone 1 is the coldest (shortest growing season) up to zone 11 (longest growing season).

Another thing to keep in mind is that a date on the calendar does not always give you the green light to start gardening. Don’t forget to always get to know your soil up close and personal by giving it the squeeze test. This will tell you when you can work your soil safely.

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