The basics of composting

Horticulture Hints

With the garden season starting to wind down, now is a great time to think about creating a home compost pile.

Many gardeners consider compost as good as gold when added to garden soil. Compost tilled into the garden helps to improve drainage, adds moisture and nutrient retention, plus addition of composted organic matter also works to improve the overall soil structure.

Rather than burning leaves, collect them to use to create compost. To help speed up the break down process, it is helpful to run them thru your lawn mower or shredder first. Save any lawn clippings that have not been chemically treated to include in your compost bin.

Do not include tomato vines or squash vines or other plant materials that are diseased or have insect damage. Disease and insect eggs can overwinter in a compost pile, as a home compost piles do not heat up enough to destroy these plant pests and pathogens.

Vegetable wastes, egg shells and coffee grounds are also great additions for compost as nitrogen materials. Add wood chips or shredded paper for a carbon source.

The important thing to remember is to have the right proportion of carbon (dried items) and nitrogen (green items) to efficiently break down materials in your compost heap. This is referred to as the C:N ratio. The ideal proportion is 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen by weight, to enable microorganisms to go to work and break down materials in the pile. Water and oxygen are equally important, as a dry pile will not break down, yet a too wet pile can cause odors and inhibit breakdown activity of microbes. Aerate your compost by turning it to allow oxygen to reach the center of the pile for rapid decomposition to occur.

By keeping your compost pile turned frequently and you will be able to turn your kitchen and garden waste into “black gold” for the garden next spring!

Did you know? Other things not to include in compost include: weed seed, fat, meat, bones, dog or cat feces. Temperatures to properly destroy disease pathogens in these materials will not be reached, and may also attract wildlife to investigate your home compost pile.

Questions? Contact McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu for information or advice.

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