Compost is the product of decomposed organic material produced by a natural cycle in the environment when dead animals and plants are digested by other organisms, physically and chemically. Organisms, such as insects and worms, physically decompose organic material by chewing through it.
Microorganisms such as aerobic bacteria contribute the most to decomposition by changing the chemistry of organic waste. A variety of partially decomposed organic waste results in nutrient-rich soil, perfect for a lawn or garden.
To start a backyard compost bin, choose an area with good drainage, partial shade and little wind to prevent the compost from becoming too wet or dry.
A bin should be placed on bare ground, not cement. The bin can be constructed from wood, plastic or chicken wire.
The compost pile should be no smaller than 3 cubic feet and no larger than 5 cubic feet. Compost requires a mixture of air, water, nitrogen and carbon to supply fuel for microorganisms.
Air and water should be no worry when the compost pile is regularly stirred and includes a balance of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials.
Nitrogen-rich materials, or “greens,” include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and lawn clippings.
Carbon-rich materials, or “browns,” include saw dust, dried leaves and straw.
A good ratio is about four parts “browns” to one part “greens” by volume.
Items that cannot be composted include meat, bones, grease, ashes, pet droppings and litter.
Fall is the best time to start composting, due to the abundance of dried leaves, and it is also a good time to harvest compost for spring gardening.
Composting has two great benefits—keeping food waste out of landfills and producing fertile soil for gardening.
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