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ZANESVILLE, OH -- Composting is just another way to recycle organic waste into something useful. With autumn here, it is good time to consider starting a compost pile or bin if you don’t already have one. You can start with all those lovely leaves autumn will bring down into your yard soon. Instead of bagging them for the landfill, compost them.

All organic matter, including those piles of leaves, eventually decomposes. Composting provides a faster process for this by providing an ideal environment for the decomposing micro-organisms. The key elements necessary for the decomposition process are nutrients (nitrogen and carbon), moisture, and oxygen. Green materials (grass clippings, vegetable food scraps, flowers, etc.) provide the nitrogen. Brown materials (dry leaves, twigs, straw, wood ashes, sawdust, etc.) supply the carbon. A good ratio is two parts green material to one part brown material. Rain provides the moisture unless it is dry, like this year, then you have to water the pile. You provide the oxygen by turning and stirring the materials. Your final product will be a dark, crumbly, soil additive that can be used as a mulch, soil conditioner or potting mix.

Composting can be as simple or as involved as you want to make it, depending upon how fast you want a finished product and the effort you are willing to put forth. Composting can be done in an open pile or in a bin. If you decide you want a bin, you can make a simple bin out of snow fence, woven wire, cement blocks or wooden pallets. Prefabricated bins and barrels can be purchased at lawn/garden and home improvement stores. We find a pile easier.

Cold composting is the easiest, but slowest method. For this method, pile all organic materials on the ground or in a bin. Then you leave it alone. This method will take months or even up to a year for the materials to break down, but requires no other effort on your part. I have to admit, this is the method we use most often because we never seem to get time to turn the pile as often as it needs to be turned!

Hot composting requires more work, but can provide finished compost in a few weeks. Hot composting requires that the pile of materials be at least 3’x3’x3’. Anything smaller will have trouble holding the heat. At the same time, anything larger than 5x5’ will not allow enough air circulation. For successful hot composting, mix your materials together to promote air circulation. Monitor your pile and water as needed, keeping it moist but not wet. Stirring or turning the pile is what speeds up the process, so the more often you stir/turn it, the faster it will decompose. Turning the pile every day or two can result in compost in a month. Turning every other week will result in compost in approximately 3 months.

Composting isn’t an exact science, so be patient. The rate of decomposition will vary depending up the materials and the weather. Composting is easy, cheap, and great for your yard, landscaping and/or gardens.

Lisa Crock is an administrative assistant with the Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District. She can be reached at 740-454-2027.

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