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Composting: Helping keep your garden healthy

 

                What is composting and why is it beneficial to my garden? Let’s start with what a compost pile is and what its process does.

               

The compost pile is usually made of a mixture of “green” organic materials like food scraps, garden trimmings or fresh manure and “brown” organic materials like dead or dry leaves, cardboard and wood chips. The “green” materials contain a chemical called nitrogen and the “brown” materials contain a chemical called carbon.


These chemicals, plus air and water, make the perfect living conditions for tiny organisms, like bacteria and molds, as well as creatures like worms and insects. They feed on the organic matter and help to break it down.


Now, you can’t just toss your compost materials in and let it be. A compost pile has to be monitored, and checked on often. You need to maintain a warm temperature so that the composting process stays active. An easy way to check the temperature is just by using your hands, but if you don’t want to get your hands dirty you can always use a thermometer. Decomposition in a pile is most active between 90  and 140 . Any higher than 140 and the composting process slows considerably because most microorganisms cannot survive above that temperature.


If your compost pile starts getting cold you need to give it a good turn to get the process started again. This can be done fairly easily with a pitchfork. It is also important that your compost pile stays on the moist side and is getting enough oxygen so that the bacteria keep doing its process. If you wanted to, you could help your compost pile along by using a tarp to retain the moisture inside of your pile. This isn’t a necessary step; it can just help with moisture retention if you wanted to cut down how much water you were using.


Waiting for your compost pile to be ready to use can be like watching paint dry. There is no set amount of time it takes for a compost pile to be ready to use. It could take anywhere from a couple of weeks, a few months, to even a year or more. You can tell if your compost is ready by looking at the bottom of the pile. If the compost at the bottom is dark and rich in color then your compost pile is ready to use.


It is always recommended to choose a good spot to start your compost pile. Remember they can be pretty stinky so you don’t want to set it up near an area that you use frequently or where you can catch a whiff of it through an open window. The last thing your dinner guests want when they are enjoying your meatloaf is a strong smell of your compost pile. A location away from the house is always recommended if you can.


Now it’s time we start going over the benefits of composting. One of the most common reasons for composting food scraps and biodegradable household items is to supply your gardens with nutrient-rich humus, which is an essential component of organic material in soil. Using compost in your garden can help promote plant growth, it can improve soil health, and it can improve the soil quality. Compost can also help supplement the natural microbes and nutrients that are already in the soil.


When you add compost to your plants, you are giving it a supercharge of all the nutrients they could possibly need to thrive. Compost can provide your plants with food such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. All of which can be found and are essential components of agricultural fertilizer.


Compost is also great in helping retain the right amount of moisture. Nevada County’s soil is a lot of red clay, which doesn’t like to drain. Which in turn keeps water locked around your plant and can essentially drown your plant. Mixing in some compost with the dense clay soil helps aerate it. This creates a lighter soil mixture for water to be able to drain better.

Among all the benefits, there is also the fact that you can cut down on your household waste heading to the landfill. This is a good thing for a few different reasons. First. When compostable material ends up in the landfill, it usually gets buried under massive amounts of other trash. This ends up cutting off a regular supply of oxygen that the microorganisms breaking down the organic material need. What ends up happening is the waste undergoes anaerobic decomposition. This means the material is broken down by organisms that can live without free-flowing oxygen. During the process of anaerobic decomposition, biogas is created as a byproduct. The biogas is made up of roughly 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide, both of these are potent greenhouse gases.


Now, for what you should and shouldn’t’ compost in your backyard.

    Can be Composted     Should not be Composted

Cardboard (uncoated, small pieces)             Black walnut tree leaves or twigs (Releases Coffee grounds and filters substances that might be harmful to plants)          Eggshells                                                     Coal or charcoal ash (Might contain substances Fireplace ashes (From natural Wood Only)   harmful to plants)                                  

Fruits and Vegetables                                      Dairy Products and eggs (creates odor problem Grass Clippings                         problems and attracts pests such as rodents and Hair and Fur                                                      Flies)          

Hay and Straw Diseased or insect ridden plants (Disease or Houseplants insects might survive and be transferred to other Leaves plants)    Newspaper (Shredded)                                   Fats, grease, lard, oils (Create odor problems Nut Shells                                                         pests such as rodents and flies) 

Paper (uncoated, small pieces)                      Meat or fish and bones and scraps (Create odor Sawdust                                                            problems, attract pests such as rodent and flies, Tea Bags and might also carry pathogens)       Yard Trimmings                                                Pet feces or Litter (might contain parasites, Wood Chips bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans)      

                                      Yard trimmings treated with chemical Pesticides (might kill beneficial composting organisms)     

 

                Don’t let your compost overwhelm you. It’s often better to start with a smaller pile or a small composting bin. Learning how to compost correctly and efficiently can take time, but in the end, it’s about feeling accomplished, knowing you’ve put in the hard work to keep your plants healthy. That’s what matters most. So, get out there and start composting!

 

 

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