The Backyard Gardener- Composting

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Let’s talk about taking out the trash! Some of you that know me may be saying “Oh no, where is he going with this one” but this week I want to talk to you about trash. We all have it, some of us have more of it than others, but we all have it. We take it out of the house when it’s over flowing and the bag is about to bust or our wives tell us “honey the trash is smelly”, which is a nice way of saying get it outside now. We put it in the big trash can under the porch or by the driveway and pull it to the end of the driveway once a week for the trash man to come by and pick up and the process starts over. Something that we usually do not think of is where this trash goes; well it goes to the landfill. These landfills are filling up quickly and before you know it there will be one down the road from your house or you will see it on that Sunday drive you like to go on each week to get out of the house after church. Did you know that 20 to 30 percent of the trash we produce comes from kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, and other landscape debris? Now what if I can tell you that all of these waste products can be used to produce organic matter and nutrients for our gardens, landscape and yard? Well you can, it’s called composting. Composting is simply the process of organic material decomposition. Compost supplies nutrients for plants, improves soil quality, increases the soil capacity to hold water and nutrients and increases aeration.

So what can you compost? Kitchen scraps: Fruits and vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds and filters, and egg shells make excellent compost. I would recommend not using animal by-products such as grease, fat or meat trimming, or dairy products because these things break down very slowly, attracting rodents and have an unpleasant smell. Grass clippings from mowing your yard, they are relatively high in nitrogen and make great compost. Make sure to mix fresh grass clippings with soil or dry leaves to prevent compacting which will limit air flow and slow down the composting process. Dry leaves from your trees make excellent compost. Whole leaves are hard to break down but if you rake the leaves in a row and mow over them it will shred them up and they are ready to be added to your compost pile. Manure from chickens, cows, and horses are also high in nitrogen and good for composting. Never add dog or cat feces to your compost as they can carry disease organisms. Sawdust should always be composted before putting it in the garden because it ties up nitrogen as it decomposes. Other material you can use for composting are sod removed from your lawn, hay, shredded newspaper, hedge clippings. Large twigs break down slowly and are not recommended for composting.

You can buy many types of composting bins but you can construct your own with wire fencing, cement blocks, bricks and scrap lumber you have laying around your house. Enclosing the compost pile will reduce the space that it takes up, just make sure you leave one side open for air flow and so the pile can be turned with a fork. The pile should be located, in a secluded area, near the garden if possible with partial shade to prevent it from drying to quickly and in well-drained soil to prevent water logging. Ideally the compost would be in layers to start. Layer 1 should be coarse plant material, followed by a 6 to 10-inch layer of finer plant material; layer 3 should be a 1 inch layer of soil or manure. Manure provides microorganisms that actually break down the plant material. If soil is used as a substitute for manure add 1/3 of a cup of nitrogen for every 25 square feet of compost. Repeat layers two and three until the pile is 5 feet high after settling. The pile should be no less than 4 square feet to allow adequate microorganisms in the pile.

Compositing can be a fun and inexpensive way to provide vital nutrients to your garden. All you need is organic material, microorganisms, air, water, and nitrogen and you are all set. If you have any questions about composting or anything else please call the Austin County Agrilife office at 979-865-2072 or check us out on the web at austin.agrilife.org, click on the “Ask the Agent” tab and leave me your message and I will be happy to get back with you as soon as possible. Also I am always looking for topics for the Backyard Gardener article so if you have any topics you would me to write about feel free to email me at travis.gonzales@ag.tamu.

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