Compost 101

It's a Dirty Job, But Someone's Gotta Do It

Written by Adam English
Posted June 25, 2013

Outsider Tip of the Week

Composting seems like a giant pain, but it really isn't... and it's going to take place one way or another. The only question is how quickly the matter breaks down.

If you have to do yardwork at all, odds are you have a pile of old branches or weeds you've pulled somewhere.

Congratulations! That's a compost pile.

Here are some tips to get some use out of that useless pile:

1. Use the right organic materials.

Aim for a 1:1 ratio of carbon- and nitrogen-rich matter. Carbon substances are made up of "browns," such as dry leaves, shredded papers, wood products, hay, or straw. Nitrogen materials would be the "greens," such as food scraps, yard clippings, and manure.

2. The compost must have air.

You'll have to turn over the pile to avoid really nasty odors from anaerobic bacteria. A tumbler is easiest, but costs money. A couple minutes with a shovel each weekend can work just as well.

3. Keep an eye on the temperature.

Somewhere between 90° and 135°F bacteria will work fastest. In cooler areas, build your compost pile in the sun. In warmer areas, build it in some shade. That'll be enough to take care of it.

4. Break it down some yourself.

Chipping and shredding just about any material will increase surface area and speed up composting.

5. Water it.

If compost is too dry, it'll virtually stop composting. If it is too wet, it'll smell like death. If it is about as damp as a wet dishcloth, you should be fine. If you're out in the yard with a hose, give it a minute-long squirt if it hasn't rained in the last couple days.

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