Backyard Composting

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Backyard composting is beneficial to all of us. It reduces the amount of organic waste going into landfills and can improve just about any soil by improving drainage, water and nutrient holding ability, and texture. It can be incorporated into the soil, or placed on top as a mulch.

There’s more to backyard composting than heaping leaves in the corner of the yard. Just piling leaves and forgetting about them will create an ‘anaerobic’ condition. Anaerobic means no oxygen. No oxygen in a compost pile means no composting. But a successful backyard compost pile is easy to achieve.

Composting is simply an acceleration of the natural decomposition process. It won’t smell if you keep it turned. It decomposes to a material that smells like dirt. That’s what composting does. It converts organic waste into soil. Yard waste that can go into a compost pile rather than landfills include: dried leaves, straw, grass, weeds and branches.

Kitchen scraps also can go into a compost pile; but not meat, bones, dairy products, whole eggs or fatty foods; they will attract animals or maggots. Manure can be added, but not kitty litter or dog feces.

The keys to successful composting are heat, oxygen and water. Heat is the biggest factor in decomposition. The center of a compost pile should be hot ‑‑ about 160 degrees F. When you turn it on a cool day, it should be steaming.

Oxygen, needed for complete decomposition, is added by turning the pile when it begins to cool down, about every 4 to 5 days at first, then every week to 10 days.

Begin a compost pile with a layer of branches or corn stalks; this will aid air circulation by creating an air space at the bottom of the pile. Then add an 8 to 10 inch layer of bulk material such as straw, leaves, or sawdust. A 1 to 2 inch layer of green or nitrogen material such as grass clippings or kitchen waste is layered next. The last layer is a 1 inch layer of soil, manure, or old compost. This layer contains the activators, the microorganisms needed to decompose the composting material. Continue to build by layers in the same order until your pile is four feet high. About 6-8 ounces of 10-10-10 fertilizer spread on top of each soil layer will get the pile off to a fast start.

Water each layer until it has the consistency of a wrung sponge. The bigger the pile, the faster the decomposition. The minimum size should be 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet.

Home gardeners can build their own composting bin with simple instructions available at the Macon County Cooperative Extension office. More detailed composting information is available also.