The basics of composting

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Are you interested in starting your own compost pile at home? Here are a few tips and facts to get you started. Compost is rich in nutrients, breaks down tough clay soils, and also helps soil retain water. It is also shown to improve the fertility and root development of plants. What you put in the compost is highly important. You want a 3:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. They are the fundamental elements in compost. Bacteria and fungi digest or oxidize carbon as an energy source and ingest nitrogen for protein synthesis. Let’s say you have 100 pounds of carbon material, you would want only about 3-4lbs of nitrogen material added to that. Too much nitrogen can add an unpleasant smell. So what would be considered carbon material? This could include leaves, dried grass clippings, shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard or even hay. Nitrogen can be found in vegetables, ground coffee, or kitchen scraps. You want to avoid adding in meat, dairy products, grease and bones because they will attract unwanted pests. You can either pile your compost materials in a spot in your yard or you could get a compost bin—either way works just fine.

So once you have all of your materials together, what’s next? Compost needs sufficient surface area so that the microorganisms are able to digest more material and multiply quickly. This speeds up the process. You can increase the surface area by shredding the materials you add to your compost. Compost also needs sufficient water (40-60% of it needs to be wet) so watering it with a hose regularly is important. Compost also requires mixing to keep it aerated because oxygen is needed for decomposition to take place. You can aerate a compost pile by using a pitch fork or shovel and mixing the materials—making sure to expose the compost at the bottom and in the middle. Compost also decomposes faster in high temperatures—between 90-140 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter months, decomposition will slow down and you may notice your compost pile steaming.

Other forms of compost include vermicomposting (using worms to break down the material). This requires hardly any work on your part but may attract fruit flies. Compost is easy to do and can be achieved on both a small and large scale level. So next time you have food scraps, don’t throw them away, instead start a compost pile! It will save you money, reduce what you send to the landfill, and be beneficial for your soil.

There is still time to register for Envision’s Sustainability Management seminar, May 20-22. Our Envision program is about much more than renewable energy and energy conservation. It’s about the full spectrum of sustainable practices–from the products we buy and those we’re done using to our energy program and more. We’re taking the lessons we’ve learned along the way and offering that knowledge to you in an affordable 3-day course.

Learn more at http://www.gundersenenvision.org.

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