Good Gardens: Composting

Did you know that yard trimmings and food waste accounts for 23 percent of the U.S. waste stream?  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, things that break down quite well naturally, like grass clippings and banana peels, are sitting in landfills creating tons of methane gas.  Methane is worse than carbon dioxide; in fact it’s a long-lasting greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere. 

Did you know that you can do something about this in your own gardens?  The simple answer is composting, which is an easy way to help the environment and your own garden.  Keep a little compost bucket under the sink in the kitchen for fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grinds and filters, egg shells, and nut shells.  Don’t put any waste from dairy and meat products in the compost bucket, as these will attract lots of unwanted visitors.

Composting works by speeding up the natural process of decomposition by providing the perfect environment for bacteria to break down the organic matter. The key to good composting is to balance materials high in nitrogen, like fresh grass clippings and food waste, with materials high in carbon, like dried leaves. The compost needs a little rain water or the occasional dousing from the garden hose may be necessary.  The final ingredient is oxygen, which comes from turning and mixing the compost pile on a regular basis.  The more often the materials are turned, the faster they break down.

Composting can be as simple as a pile of yard waste being put in a compost bin in a corner of the yard for slow composting. If you are willing to put a little more effort in, it’s possible to produce usable compost every few weeks.  What results is a product that looks like dark, fertile garden soil that is full of nutrients to help plants grow. This can be mixed with mulch in flower beds or spread directly into the garden.

Four easy steps to composting:

Step one: Keep a receptacle for compost materials in the kitchen and create a compost area outside.  There are many styles of compost bins available at home improvement or hardware stores, but make sure it has good drainage.

Step two: Put grass and yard clippings, leaves, house plants, and kitchen waste into the compost bin.  Dryer and vacuum lint, clean paper, cardboard rolls, cotton and wool rags, sawdust, shredded newspaper, fireplace ashes, hair and fur even make good compost material.

DO NOT use: Diseased/insect infested plants, chemically treated yard trimmings, pet waste, dairy products, meat and fish bones/scraps, oils or lards, coal or charcoal ashes.

Step 3: Keep the pile moist but not saturated.

Step 4: Turn the compost materials in the bin on a regular basis to aid in the composting process.  Fortunately, most compost bins now have a feature that makes turning the materials very simple. In a few weeks time you will have a nutrient-rich compost that can be added back into garden beds and even at the base of trees.  Composting is a small act that helps to keep Austin a great and green place to live.

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