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Compost 101 - How and Why You Should Compost

Posted Dec 29 2009 5:02pm

Food scraps and yard clippings make up one quarter of the United States' solid waste piling up in landfills. The book, True Green, says, "When this organic matter ends up in landfills and decomposes without air, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide."

Composting is the way to cleanly convert kitchen and garden waste into productive soil matter without producing toxicity and it is one of nature's best mulches and soil amendments. You can make it without spending a cent, which helps save you money. Which type of composter should you use? The video above shows two differing composters.

(To continue learning the steps for composting, please click the continue link below...)

When adding material to the composter, keep in mind the pile needs a proper ratio of carbon-rich materials, or "browns," and nitrogen-rich materials, or "greens," and moisture. Below is a list of browns and greens you might use in your compost pile.

Examples of browns:

  • Newspaper, black-and-white print preferred.
  • Brown paper bags from the grocery store.
  • Shredded cardboard or cotton and paper-based tissues and towels.
  • Floor sweepings.
  • Straw.
  • Aged grass clippings.
  • Dead leaves. Do not use dead leaves from diseased plants.

Examples of greens:

  • New grass clippings.
  • Plant prunings. Do not add prunings from diseased plants.
  • Spent flowers and pulled weeds.
  • Coffee grounds.
  • Tea bags with metal staple removed.
  • Kitchen scraps. Avoid items that will root, such as potato skins and onions, unless ground completely. Do not add meat or bones or it will stink to high heaven!
  • Barnyard animal manures such as cow, horse, chicken, goat, sheep, and rabbit. Do not use dog, cat, or human manure/feces as they may contain pathogens or diseases that could be harmful.

 Managed composting involves active participation, including turning the pile occasionally. On average, it takes between three and four weeks to create compost. The speed is determined by the products you add, if they are chopped up, and how often you turn the pile. A good balance of carbon and nitrogen encourages quicker composting.

The temperature of the managed pile is important--it indicates the activity of the decomposition process. It should be warm or hot to the touch. If it is not, then the microbial activity has slowed down and you need to add more green materials. This heat can be encouraged if you place your compost pile in full sun.

Keeping the pile moist is also important as organic waste needs water to decompose. Gray water, in other words, old dish water or clothes washer water from your home can be drained into a compost pile regularly. The rule of thumb is to keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If you actively manage the composting, within a few weeks you will have a rich additive for your garden.

To order the awesome composters used in the video, please go to On a special note, readers should know these products were given to me and I reviewed them for many months to test performance. Clean Air Gardening did not pay me in any way outside of donating the product and the reviews I give on these products and on any product on my blog are wholly honest and not influenced by the product company.

Shawna Coronado says Get Healthy! Get Green! Get Community!, The Green Blog -, or The Garden Blog -

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