Twice each week on the mornings of garbage collection days, I make my rounds through the neighborhood and scope out bags of grass clippings and pine straw that either the lawn care companies or neighbors have left by the curbside to be hauled to the landfill. It used to irk me that folks were sending part of their land to rot in the same place non-recyclers send their plastic milk cartons and soda cans. However, I found a remedy to my frustrations. I collect their yard waste and place it into the Tomato Tower compost mound along with my yard waste and kitchen scraps.
Did you know, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, yard trimmings and food residuals together make up 27 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream? That is a lot of unnecessary waste to send to landfills when it could be used as compost material.
Compost is one of the most essential elements in garden beds because it provides organic matter and nutrients to the plants. Compost is not to be confused with soil, although it is an important component of healthy soil and, when properly prepared, it can be used alone as a planting medium in containers. The mineral portion of soil (sand, silt and clay) makes up nearly half of its volume while air, water and organic matter make up the rest. Compost is decomposed organic matter, and that is paramount in organic gardening and farming. It provides a natural fertilizer and conditions the soil, reducing the need for tilling and synthetic fertilization.
Five percent of the soil in your garden beds should be made up of organic matter in order to balance what plants need for stability.
Here at Home Grown Tomatoes, the gardening year is divided into two halves. September is the beginning of the "building season" for preparing the soil and beds for the "planting season" in March. This is the time of year when nearly all of the compost processed in the heaps is added to the planting beds, so it can begin to amend by working its way into the soil.
There are many methods for creating the perfect compost, but the end result is the same. Some folks use a composting drum that yard waste and kitchen scraps are added to; then it is rotated or tumbled to keep it aerated.
Other folks use a three-bin system where three corrals, side-by-side, are filled with the organic materials one bin at a time, and then turned into the other bins as the compost breaks down. For example: leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps are added to the first bin and as they begin to break down, they are tossed into the second bin then into the third. All the time more fresh materials are added to the first bin and the third bin will be the finished process. One of my neighbors uses the same method, only he works with heaps instead of corrals. It’s the same principle and produces the same product. (Some days we compete for the neighborhood yard waste.)
Personally, I use the "sliding-hill" method. It is simply what works for me and so I named it. It works on a similar method as a blast furnace where raw materials are put in the top and the good stuff is harvested from the bottom. The compost heap is built on a hill at the back of the property. It is easily accessed with wheelbarrows, grass catchers and kitchen waste buckets at the top of the hill. The heap is turned with a potato fork. As kitchen scraps are added (daily) the grass clippings and other yard waste are raked up onto the heap. As the organic material decomposes and more material is added to the top, it slides down the hill and then is shoveled into a wheelbarrow at the bottom of the hill and taken to the garden.
Composting requires three basic ingredients: browns (dead leaves, pine straw, branches), greens (grass clippings, kitchen scraps) and water. The browns provide carbon, greens provide nitrogen and water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.
Now, let’s make some compost!
First of all, we’ll need a suitable location to stage the effort. It is best to locate your compost system where it is easily accessible, yet away from your neighbors’ sight. Some folks may think of your little gold factory as an eyesore. It is best to position it in a dry, shady spot near a water source in case you have to hydrate the compost.
It is important to balance your browns to greens in order to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio. Aerating the pile helps introduce oxygen which keeps it from becoming stinky. Be careful not to turn the mixture too often as too much oxygen can dry out the pile and inhibit decomposition.
There are some dos and don’ts to heed when considering what to compost.
On the "do" list: animal manure (rabbit, cow, horse, chicken), coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded newspaper and copier paper, grass clippings, wood chips and sawdust, small branches and twigs, ashes from the fireplace, eggshells, vegetable and fruit scraps, hair, fur, dryer lint, wool and cotton rags, pine straw, hay, cardboard, leaves and annual plants.
On the "don’t" list: fats, dairy products, meats, bones, diseased plant material, noxious weeds, pet wastes and cat litter.
Some folks say you shouldn’t compost citrus peels, but I do it. It just takes a little longer to break them down.
Remember your compost pile should get hot enough to kill any bad bacteria and weed seeds. About 140 degrees is an ideal temperature.
Don’t send that stuff to the landfill! Make your own garden gold!
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