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The Cottage July/Lammas 2001 Issue


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Composting is a natural process that breaks down kitchen, lawn and garden materials into a dark, earthy, soil-like material called "compost." This end-product is an excellent soil conditioner for plants, gardens and lawns.

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Why compost???

-Composting provides a free, top-notch soil conditioner that improves plant, garden and lawn growth.

-Compost acts like a sponge, helping soil retain moisture and nutrients.

-Compost helps break down heavy clay soils or helps to bind sandy soils.

-Soils rich in compost experience less erosion and reduced quick runoff.

-By returning nutrients back into the soil, compost reduces the need for expensive chemical fertilizers.

-Composting household materials will save landfill space. The amount of waste you send to the landfill will be reduced by 1/3 to 1/2.

-It's easy! You don't need any technical knowledge or equipment.

What do you need for composting??

The basic elements needed for composting are:

organic materials (food)
water all in the right amounts.

To add efficiency, you will also need:
a container for collecting kitchen scraps;
a pitchfork, shovel or other turning device;
and a bin for your backyard.

Materials to compost
All organic (compostable) material contain a mixture of carbon and nitrogen, this is know as the carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio. For best results your compost pile requires a balance of carbon and nitrogen, with the optimum being 30:1.

Items containing carbon are generally brown in colour, such as autumn leaves or straw. Items containing nitrogen are generally green in colour, such as kitchen scraps and green grass clippings.

A rule of thumb is to have roughly equal amounts of browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen). This is known as the 50/50 rule and will balance the carbon:nitrogen ratio at the proper level.

The following is a list of some of the different green and brown materials that can be composted. It is not a complete list. Other materials may be added.

Greens... Nitrogen Rich
These materials are usually moist.

green leaves
weeds before they go to seed
vegetable/fruit peels and scraps
spoiled food
green grass clippings
coffee grounds, including the filter
tea bags
egg shells (crushed)
cooked pasta and rice

Browns...Carbon Rich
These materials are usually dry.

evergreen needles
dry leaves
dried brown grass clippings
bark chips
prunings and cuttings
dryer/vacuum lint
bird cage cleanings

* These items should be used in limited quantities because they decompose slowly.


Materials to avoid
Even though you can put most of your organic materials in your composter, a few materials should be avoided since they cause problems such as odours and pest attraction.

Do Not Compost ...

meat, bones and fish scraps
dairy products
fatty/oily foods, including cheese, butter, oil and salad dressing
weeds with mature seeds
pet wastes
walnut shells
rhubarb leaves
plants or grass clippings that have been treated with chemicals
diseased or insect-infected plants
charcoal or coal ashes

HELPFUL HINT: If you have weeds with mature seeds that you wish to compost, you have to kill the seeds with heat. This can be accomplished by placing weeds in a sealed black garbage bag and letting it sit in the sun for a two or three days. The dried weeds can then be added to your compost pile.


Collecting Materials
Materials will be generated in two main areas of the household: the kitchen and the yard.

The simplest way to collect kitchen materials is to use some sort of container. Two or four litre plastic ice cream containers work well. The container can be kept in such places as on the cupboard or under the sink. As you produce material, put it in the container and when it is full it can be taken out and added to the compost pile. The container should have a lid, which will help eliminate odours but is not necessary.

Yard materials can be added to the compost as they are produced, provided there are not excessive quantities. If you are getting large volumes of a certain material at one time, such as grass or leaves, store it and add the material a little at a time.

HELPFUL HINT: Chop materials up before you put them into the composter. The smaller the material is, the more surface area is exposed, and the faster it will decompose.

Leaves are very compostable, but they are accumulated in a short span of time and usually in great numbers. If you have too many fall leaves to fit into your composter, here are a few suggestions:

Dig some into the soil for spring planting.
Use them as mulch around plants and trees.
Pile the leaves in a corner of your yard. They will break down fairly quickly.
Store them in bags. Add them to the compost pile as you need them.
Shred the leaves to reduce the volume. Do this by running over them with a lawn mower. Or, put leaves in a garbage can and use a weed trimmer to break them down.
HELPFUL HINT: Leaves will lose over 3/4 of their volume when they are composted. What looks like a large pile of fallen leaves will be a small pile of composted material.

Grass Clippings
Grass clippings are another item that can be generated in large quantities and may be difficult to handle in your composter. The trick with grass clippings is not to add too many at once since they tend to mat together and smell. Instead, put in limited quantities of green grass. Mix grass clippings into your compost or add some brown material with it.

HELPFUL HINT: If you let your clippings dry out in the sun, they will become a carbon source and can be used to mix with fresh clippings.

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