Composting – A Tremendous Benefit to the DIY Homeowner

Composting is defined as the decomposition or decay of organic waste materials like leaves, grass trimmings, kitchen scraps, sawdust and even shredded paper and cardboard. Composted materials are a great environmental response to household wastes that would normally go to a landfill and convert them to an environmentally and economically friendly amendment to feed your lawn, garden, shrubs and trees. The decomposing process yields an array of nutrients that your lawn and plants need to flourish without the fear of over-application of chemicals and fertilizers. Composted materials are used as soil amendments for garden vegetables, lawn top dressing or mulching fruit trees. Composted materials are pH neutral and aid your soil in moisture absorption and retention.

Four major ingredients necessary to the composting process:

NITROGEN—Protein materials like new grass clippings, overripe fruits and veggies, non-meat kitchen waste, spent coffee grounds and newly pulled weeds without seed heads.

CARBON – These occur naturally in brown waste like tree leaves, dried plant matter and other dried organic wastes.

WATER —The composting ingredients should be kept moist (like a wrung-out washcloth), not wet. The water source should not contain fluoride or chlorine as most municipal water sources do. These chemicals impede bacterial growth necessary for the composting process. A handy rain barrel works well as a water source. Green materials like fresh grass clipping will naturally add water.

OXYGEN —Oxygenation in composting can be aided by turning and mixing the material several times per week. This author uses a horizontal barrel composter fitted with turning handle to make oxygenation quick and easy.

WARNING—Meat waste, grease, dairy items and human and pet waste can introduce pathogens like salmonella into the composting material. Never add these or inorganic materials like glass, plastics, foil and metal items to your compost.

Temperature monitoring is very important to the composting process. As the micro-organisms and bacteria digest the material and multiply, they generate significant heat. A healthy composting bin will measure temperatures in the 140 to 160-degree Fahrenheit range which quickly speeds the decomposition process. Use a compost thermometer to monitor temperatures. If the temperature is too low (under 110 degrees) your compost material may be too wet or not receiving proper turning for oxygenation.

Composting is completed when the material is a dark rich color with small particles and a sweet, earthy smell. The application of the cured compost to your lawn as a top dressing, as an amendment to your garden soil, and as a mulch in your fruit orchid, is an efficient method of correcting soil pH and adding major and minor elements to your soil. The organic nutrients are in a natural form for easy uptake by the plant creating a consistent and constant food source for your plants.

The USDA recommends that homeowners test their soil for lawns and gardens at least once a year to stay abreast of imbalances in their soil chemistry. The testing process is not a destination but a journey, as test values change over time with plant uptake of nutrients, application of fertilizers, amendments and supplements and irrigation from rain, well and municipal water sources. SoilKit by AgriTech is a trusted source for quick, easy and professional soil analyses. SoilKit tests for pH, major elements of phosphorus and potassium, and minor elements of magnesium, calcium, boron, zinc, manganese, iron and copper. SoilKit then makes recommendations for corrective nutrition based on the test analysis and plant or lawn type. To learn more visit www.soilkit.com.

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