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Composting easy

first_imgBy Dan RahnUniversity of GeorgiaVegetable gardens and landscapes alike can benefit from agenerous dose of compost now and then. An excellent source of”slow release” nutrients, compost also loosens tight, compactedsoils and helps them hold nutrients.Bob Westerfield, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extensionstate consumer horticulturist, said gardeners would probably usemore of it, except that they need so much of it (20 to 30 poundsper 100 square feet).You can sometimes get large amounts in bulk at county landfillsand other sites, he said, but getting it home can be a challenge, and it isn’t available everywhere. If you don’t have an easy supply available from your county, the next best thing is to make your own.What it isSimply put, he said, compost is what’s left of organic matterafter microbes have thoroughly decomposed it. Plants and othervegetative materials are excellent sources of organic matter.Among the compostable organic materials close to home are leaves, grass clippings, twigs, chopped brush, straw, sawdust, vegetable plants, culled vegetables from the garden and fruit and vegetable peelings and coffee grounds from the kitchen.Table scraps containing meat, eggs or oils aren’t recommended,Westerfield said. They can draw rodents to the pile and smellbad, too. Egg shells are OK, but in general, use only kitchenscraps that are either plants or paper.The guys that do the actual composting, he said, are bacteria and fungi you can’t see with the naked eye. A number of companies sell “composting microbes,” but you don’t need them. Fortunately, plenty of these microbes are around already.How to startJust mix a few scoops of garden soil or compost from a previousbatch into the compost pile will provide all the microbes youneed to start the process. The microbes just need water, oxygenand nutrients to grow and multiply.Rainfall will provide most of the needed moisture. You may needto hand water the pile on occasion, too, during dry times,Westerfield said. For the best results, keep the pile moist butnot soggy.The right mix of organic matter can provide all the nutrientsneeded. Alternate brown and green materials to provide the needed amounts of carbon and nitrogen. If the pile seems to bedecomposing too slowly, raise the nitrogen level by adding a fewmore green materials or a handful of granular fertilizer.’Air’ conditionThe best composting microbes require oxygen, he said. There’splenty of that in the air. As microbes decompose organic matter,though, they deplete the oxygen in the pile. So you have to turnthe pile routinely to provide more oxygen. The more you turn thepile, the faster it will decompose.With the right blend of organic matter, water and air,Westerfield said, the microbes release powerful digestingenzymes. After the enzymes break the organic matter down intosmall molecules, the microbes absorb these molecules and use them for energy and reproduction.This process generates heat, he said. Sustained for severalweeks, the heat will kill weed seeds, nematodes and otherorganisms that can cause disease. This makes compost much betterin your yard and garden than noncomposted materials.Composting is a simple process, Westerfield said. Try it. Ifyou’d like to know more about the process, contact your countyoffice of the UGA Extension Service.(Dan Rahn is a Cooperative Extension news editor with theUniversity of Georgia College of Agricultural and EnvironmentalSciences.)last_img read more