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Guide to Easy Backyard Composting
The Benefits of Compost
Compost provides you with many benefits, be they environmental or economic, which is why it's often referred to as black gold. Compost is a rich, very beneficial form of fertilizer you make using your kitchen, garden and yard waste. You can spread compost in your garden, on flower beds, around trees, and even on top of your lawn. Woody compost can be used as an alternative to synthetic mulch as well.
Composting is nature’s way of recycling, by returning valuable organic matter and nutrients to soil to be used once again. One of the best aspects about using compost in your gardens is that you don’t need to purchase fertilizers, or if you choose to, only a very small amount will be required to produce exceptional results. Because compost improves the drainage and moisture absorption of your soil, it will retain fertilizers or pesticides for longer periods. This also means that you do not need to water as frequently, as compost can retain 100% of its weight in water (an important component of gardening in a drought). Making compost will also save you money by reducing the amount of garbage you produce (by up to 33%), especially if you pay by the can.
However, one of the most powerful impacts of composting comes from the reduction in your carbon footprint. This comes primarily from avoiding the production of methane (a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent in heat trapping capacity than carbon dioxide) at landfills, but also from reducing the amount of garbage that must be hauled from your house to the landfill, where it must be further processed. Organic material like food, yard debris and soiled paper can make up nearly 60% of what residents send to the landfill in some regions of the country. Composting is a way to keep organic material out of landfills, thereby avoiding climate warming gases generated by organic materials in landfills. So it can be said, good composting practices minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
A composting system can be easily set up at your home, but if you don’t have the space, many municipalities utilize a yard waste recycle center to create compost for use by the city and its residents. When thinking about where to locate your compost pile, there are a few things to consider. One thing you should really consider are your neighbor’s feelings, so it is best to locate the pile in places like the backyard or somewhere out of plain sight, ideally in a place that receives some direct sunlight. Compost “cooks”, so locating the pile in sunshine will speed up the composting process (helpful accessory: compost tumblers).
Once you determine a good location, you need to determine what you are going to compost in. While you can just create a compost pile, most people opt for a composting bin, which you can either build yourself or purchase at a local retailer. The minimum recommended size for an effective composting bin is 3’ x 3’ x 3’.
To achieve optimal results, it is important that you learn what is best to include in your compost pile, and what is best kept out of the bin. Being informed of the right “recipe” will help avoid the problem of foul odors associated with compost piles and will produce quicker results. Naturally, organic waste is the best raw material to make compost from. However, one of the key principles of composting is maintaining a proper carbon (brown materials) to nitrogen (green materials) ratio, so it is important that you add appropriate amounts of browns and greens to approximate a 30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen.
In order to avoid some potential pitfalls of composting, when "feeding" your pile you should avoid adding things that may contaminate the compost with diseases, such as pet droppings or diseased plants from your garden. The same goes for things that may contain toxins, such as colored paper, synthetic chemicals or coal ash. You also want to steer clear of meat, bones, fish, fats or dairy items, as these will likely lead you to a smelly situation.
Once you’ve got your compost pile up and running it is fairly simple to maintain. The main maintenance task associated with a composter is turning, or mixing, the pile regularly (twice a month should be good). This helps mix the contents to keep the “cooking” process moving along, and also serves to aerate the pile. While turning the pile it’s a good idea to check on the moisture content, and if any part seems dry, add some water to the pile. Finally, two great related tips are to shred up the items that you add to the pile, and give big “meals” rather than small ones when you add material to the composter.
When using compost, you can not only congratulate yourself on being environmentally responsible, but you can also enjoy the long-term benefits compost provides to your garden and flowerbeds.
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