Composting in Your Landscape
Composting landscape and kitchen scraps is beneficial for reducing garbage waste and practicing recycling throughout your landscape maintenance routine. You do not need a green thumb to begin composting. Here are a few basic principles to get you started with composting: materials you can compost, ratio and composition of kitchen and yard waste, pile configuration, maintenance, and composting cycle.
What can you compost? Most materials may be composted. There are a few things you should avoid composting: cut grass where chemical herbicides have been applied, weeds (they may re-seed and continue returning to your landscape), synthetic chemicals, pet waste, inorganic materials (pressure treated lumber, plastics, metals, glass, etc.), plants with diseases, coal ash, paper with color ink (newspapers, magazines, etc.), as well as anything consisting of dairy, meat, bones, fish and fats.
Getting started. One rule to remember is: stick to the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) of 25-30:1. Materials with high carbon (dry material, a.k.a. brown waste) concentration include: ashes (25:1), cardboard (350:1), fruit waste (35:1), pine needles (80:1), sawdust (325:1), wood chips (400:1), etc. High nitrogen (wet material, a.k.a. green waste) concentration include: alfalfa (12:1), clover (23:1), coffee grounds (20:1), food waste (20:1), garden waste (30:1), grass clippings (20:1) (herbicide free), hay (25:1), manures (15:1), seaweed (19:1), etc. If your compost is too carbon-rich you may add grass clippings or manure to lower the ratio. Adding paper or dry leaves will raise C:N levels if it is too low. Make sure the materials added are shredded or diced to a manageable size.
Pile configuration. Pick a sunny spot in your landscape for the compost pile. You should choose an area with plenty of room to pile additional scraps and adequate space for turning compost barrels or piles. Make sure the area has some screening or consider purchasing a small indoor compost bin for your basement or garage (i.e. Planet Natural Indoor Composter). Your compost bin dimensions should also be at least 3 x 3 x 3.
Maintenance and preservation. Most of your time will be spent turning the compost pile. If you want a lower maintenance pile, consider adding worms to your compost. Vermicompost is “the process by which earthworms digest organic matter.” Starting your own vermicompost consists of a bin, bedding, earthworms, and worm food. Most earthworm bins are smaller scale compared to compost piles, but you can add the same type of kitchen waste to your collection. Mixing your compost weekly will maintain even decomposition. Compost also needs a balanced mixture of moisture. Testing the compost consistency is the best way to determine whether any additional material needs to be added. Take a handful of compost and squeeze it; there shouldn’t be any water dripping out of your hands or crumbling of compost material. The best consistency to look for is the compost taking the form of your fist. Good compost should also smell earthy and look like soil.
Compost cycle: from table to outdoors and back again. Once your compost pile is started you can add your nutrient rich mixture to new plantings, mulching areas, and upkeep for more compost.
Regulations regarding composting. Contact your local city government regarding any regulations for compost piles. Most restrictions will consist of compost height, obstruction of drainage areas, and pest control. You may also check any homeowner association guidelines.