Good Composting Practices

Question: I hear that composting is a good gardening practice. What is it and where can I find more information?

Compost is a mixture of dead and fresh yard waste and kitchen scraps that has decomposed and turned into a dark, fluffy material that looks like – and actually becomes — rich soil. In essence, the ingredients for this “recipe” include nature’s offerings of brown (rich in carbon), green (rich in nitrogen), and food waste.

So, what’s in it for you? Composting is great way to recycle yard and kitchen waste and do your part to reduce what goes into the landfill. Most importantly, adding compost to your garden soil improves soil structure (the physical properties of soil) and improves the soil’s nutrient-holding capacity. It also helps sandy soil to hold water and clay soil to drain faster, increases microbial and earthworm populations, reduces soil compaction, makes cultivation easier, improves root growth and yields, protects plants from disease and increases plant drought tolerance. The result: plants grow better and are healthier!

Here are the key points for the recipe for making compost. You need to:
• Make an open or enclosed, unstructured pile.
• Add a mixture of browns (like dead leaves, sticks, untreated wood shavings, and other dead plant material) and greens (like fresh grass clippings and other fresh plant materials and certain kinds of kitchen waste, like coffee grounds, tea bags, and vegetable/fruit scraps).
• Add enough moisture so that the pile is like a wrung out sponge.
• Add oxygen by turning the pile over at least once a month.
• Maintain a temperature of 110 and 150 degrees F during decomposition.
• Keep the ratio of carbon to nitrogen, or browns to greens, to about 3 to 1.

Get help starting your compost pile here!

References:

Backyard Composting With Practical Tips From The Pros,” Morini, Ralph. The Garden Shed, Piedmont Master Gardeners Association.

Making Compost From Yard Waste,” Rishell, Ed. Virginia Cooperative Extension – Prince William County.

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