Monday, February 23, 2009

Composting 101

Composting is something that most people have heard about but don’t necessarily practice. In the U.S., either due to misconceptions about the practice, a lack of a garden or lawn that might use compost or just a plain lack of knowledge, composting is not a common enough practice to reduce the impact households have on our environment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has done research that shows just how much organic waste goes into landfills. Here are a few statistics:

Although industrial composting is on the rise, as the statistics above indicate, individuals aren’t doing as much as they could do make sure more food waste is composted. Yard Farmer insists that its customers compost, and we make it easy for them to do so by setting up an easy-to-use composting system at each of our customers’ homes. That said, we believe that the more you know about composting, the more comfortable you’ll be with the process. Once you get used to it, composting is even less difficult than sorting out glass, plastic and aluminum trash for recycling.

What is compost?
Compost is organic material that we use to amend soil. Composting has been occurring in nature since the dawn of plant life on this planet. As vegetation from trees and other plants falls to the ground, it slowly decays, which provides minerals and nutrients for plants, animals and microorganisms.
The composting process that most gardeners use, however, produces higher temperatures that kills pathogens and weed seeds. It also encourages the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi that break down the organic material in the compost pile into humus. When added to soil, this black, earthy material increases the level of nutrients available to plants and helps the soil retain moisture.
Studies have also demonstrated that compost can reduce incidences of plant diseases and pests, help eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and produce higher crop yields.

What can I put in my compost bin?
The EPA has a great set of basic guidelines for composting. Following are guidelines on what’s safe to add to your compost pile and what isn’t (and why).

What to Compost

Cardboard rolls
Clean paper
Coffee grounds and filters
Cotton rags (non-oily only)
Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
Fireplace ashes
Fruits and vegetables
Grass clippings
Hair and fur
Hay and straw
Nut shells
Shredded newspaper
Tea bags
Wood chips
Wool rags (non-oily only)
Yard trimmings

What Not to Compost and Why

Black walnut tree leaves or twigs: releases substances that might be harmful to plants

Coal or charcoal ash: might contain substances harmful to plants

Dairy products (e.g., butter, egg yolks, milk, sour cream, yogurt): creates odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

Diseased or insect-ridden plants: diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants

Fats, grease, lard, or oils: create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

Meat or fish bones and scraps: create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter): might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans

Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides: might kill beneficial composting organisms

NOTE: Compost should not be used as potting soil for houseplants because of the presence of weed and grass seeds.

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