Composting Your Garbage for the Garden
The makings for nature's best, most complete fertilizer may be wilting in your refrigerator's vegetable bin. Kitchen waste, along with grass clippings, leaves and other garden waste can all be used to create compost.
Compost actually improves soil structure; it loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. For those committed to organic growing methods, it is a good replacement for commercial fertilizers. And it's cheap.
"Making your own compost isn't hard, and it keeps lots of garbage out of landfills," says Lars Hundley, owner of Dallas-based CleanAirGardening.com, an online company that specializes in environmentally friendly lawn and garden supplies. "Between 25 and 50 percent of the space in landfills is taken up with organic waste from yards and kitchens, which could easily be converted to compost," says Hundley. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 35 million tons of yard trimmings were generated in 1990; the same year, the United States generated over 16 million tons of food scraps.
Composting can be as much or as little work as you want, based on the results you're looking for. At the most basic level, you can compost by simply burying kitchen scraps in your garden. If you choose to tend a compost pile, you can take a passive approach (letting materials sit in a pile and break down on their own), or you can be more hands-on. This can range from simply turning the compost pile occasionally to shredding all materials that go into the compost, monitoring the temperature, and maintaining proper moisture levels.
To start composting, first decide on the type of bin you'll use, if any. Many people build their own, but there is an increasing variety of bins available through nurseries and garden supply outlets. Bins are useful for keeping the pile neat, retaining heat and moisture, and avoiding negative effects of wind and weather. They also help deter pests from food scraps, and neighbors often appreciate not having to look at an ugly, uncovered pile.
Your materials will compost more quickly if you maintain the proper mix of "browns," and "greens." Browns include dry and dead plant materials like straw, dry brown weeds, autumn leaves, wood chips or sawdust. Greens are fresh plant materials like weeds, kitchen scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags. The ideal ratio is about 25 parts browns to one part greens, but if you're not too concerned about how quickly your pile will break down, you don't need to obsess about the ratio.
When composting kitchen waste, use only fruits, vegetables and grains. Don't compost meat, dairy, or any fats, oils or grease, which don't break down and also attract pests. When adding yard waste, you may want to stay away from weeds that have gone to seed, or those with big root systems; you'll want to chop or shred large branches and other woody material that will otherwise take too long to break down.
The process of generating finished compost can take from six weeks to two years. This depends on many factors, including the amount of effort put into it, your climate and the materials in your pile. The pile might need to be watered occasionally, and you should turn your compost to aerate it. You can use a pitchfork or a specially designed compost aeration tool.
Another easy solution is to use a rotating compost bin. By giving the bin a spin to aerate and mix the pile, you can significantly speed up the composting process. CleanAirGardening offers three different rotating models that can generate finished compost in as little as 21 days and cost from $149 to $199, including shipping.
Using Your Compost
Finished compost can be used as a soil amendment, mulch, side dressing and even a compost tea. It is good for lawns, vegetable gardens, trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and even potted plants and house plants.
To amend poor soil, spread two to three inches of compost over the surface and work into the top six inches of dirt. A one-inch layer of compost spread on top of the ground is good for garden and flower beds. Spread a one-quarter to one-half inch thick layer on your lawn annually to maintain soil quality.
Compost tea, made by steeping compost in water, is the best way to use your compost on house plants. One of CleanAirGardening's bins has a base that collects liquid, so you can produce five gallons of tea with no extra effort.
For more information on how to make and use compost, visit your local nursery or check out www.compostguide.com.
To find out about the complete line of compost bins and other composting tools available from CleanAirGardening, visit www.cleanairgardening.com or call (888) 439-9101 for a catalog.Courtesy of ARA Content
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