What is Composting and Why Do It?

Composting is nature’s way to recycle. It is the controlled natural decomposition of organic material, such as leaves, grass clippings, prunings, and fruit and vegetable scraps. Microorganisms break down these materials into compost, or humus, the nutrient rich soil product that results from proper composting.


Composting has many benefits for your garden and the environment. It save you money by conserving water and reducing the need to purchase commercial fertilizers and soil amendments. It benefits your yard and garden by improving soil health and fertility and preventing erosion. It conserves water by helping the soil hold more water and reducing the need for frequent watering. It helps the environment by recycling valuable organic materials and extending the life of the landfill.

Getting Started

Composting can be practiced almost anywhere… in your backyard, at work or school, even if you live in an apartment! All you need to get started composting is a little bit of space, a bin, and a basic understanding of the composting process.

Space

Your compost pile will need an area about three foot square. Vermicomposting uses less space, and is better suited for apartment residents and small yards. The pile should be located in a partially shady spot, so that the sun doesn’t dry out your compost too quickly. You may want to plan for extra space around your pile to make turning and harvesting your compost easier.

Tips for Lawn Care Services

Compost as a Lawn Care
Add-on Service

Most people now want to recycle and help protect our environment. However, many people don’t have the time to maintain their own compost pile. If they are hiring a lawn care or gardening company this could be an add-on service. Your company could provide the compost container as part of the service. The container is not the homeowner’s property and is removed at the end of the contract.

You can choose a compost container that is the most efficient for your work. A second barrel would be for the customer to deposit their material for composting (from the household). Any appropriate material from the yard would be added to the compost pile by your service.

Compost generated by the pile would be used on the customer’s garden. Less material would be sent to the local landfill, the customer’s garden would benefit, and your company would generate a little extra profit from the service.

If you have ideas to share with others in the Green Industry, write to us at editor@progardenbiz.com. Submissions of articles, columns, tips, ideas, or other features are welcome. Send us a description of your company, how you started and grew, your trials, tribulations, and successes. You could be famous!

Compost Bins

A compost bin will help to keep your compost pile neat and tidy, deter rodents from digging in your pile, and help your pile retain heat and moisture during composting. Compost bins can either be homemade or purchased from a bin manufacturer. Ideally, your compost bin should be a least 3 feet wide x 3 feet deep x 3 feet tall. Even if your bin is not this large, it will work just fine if managed properly. Take the time to consider your options and the style of composting that is most convenient for you.

Homemade bins can be easily constructed out of wood, wire mesh, scrap pallets, or other materials commonly found in your home. Common materials used are wooden pallets, wire fencing made into hoops, fence boards and barrels.

Manufactured bins include turning units, cone-shaped bins, and bins with stacking tiers. These bins can be purchased at nurseries and garden centers, or mail-ordered directly from the manufacturer.

Composting Basics

Making compost is a lot like cooking a meal. You take some basic ingredients, add water, mix well and let it “cook” over a given period of time. In as little as 12 weeks, you can have finished compost ready to use in your garden.

Ingredients

Four basic ingredients are required for composting: Greens, browns, water, and air. Mixing the proper amounts of these ingredients together will provide the composting organisms (microbes and insects) with enough nitrogen, carbon, moisture and oxygen to break down the material efficiently.

  • Greens include grass clippings, green leaves, fresh prunings, and fruit and vegetable scraps. Be sure not to add any meat or dairy products to your pile.
  • Browns consist of dry, woody materials such as dead leaves, wood chips, twigs, sawdust and paper. These materials are best added to the pile after being shredded or chopped, and help to “bulk-up” and aerate the compost pile.
  • Water is important. Your compost pile should be kept as moist as a wrung out sponge. Too little moisture will inhibit the composting process, and too much water can cause your pile to smell.
  • Air is essential for a sweet smelling compost pile. Turning your compost pile once or twice a week will inhibit the growth of odor-causing anaerobic bacteria, and result in faster composting.
 

What Goes in the Compost Pile?

50% greens: fresh grass clippings, yard trimmings, horse or cow manure, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, egg shells, breads.

50% browns: Woody materials, dried leaves, ground-up branches and twigs, bark, straw, hay, sawdust, shredded paper or cardboard, wood ashes.

What Stays Out of the Compost Pile?

Meat, fish, poultry and bones. Dairy products, oils, grease and lard. Fresh weeds with mature seeds. Dog and cat manure. Charcoal or Duraflame ashes. Treated wood products. If in doubt, leave it out!

Compost Critters

A handful of compost contains more decomposer organisms than there are people on the planet. These amazing little critters are responsible for making the whole composting process happen.

Microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) are the main workers of the compost pile. Although too small to see, they are on everything you throw into the compost pile.

Macroorganisms (insects, worms, and grubs) are big enough to see. They usually enter the compost pile from the surrounding landscape in the later stages of decomposition.

Composting in Style

There are several different styles of composting. Some require more time and effort, but yield quicker results. Make composting convenient for you by choosing the style that best fits your needs and schedule.

Active composting involves turning the pile on a regular basis and maintaining proper moisture and temperature levels. Some bins, such as stacking tiers and turning units, are designed to make turning and maintaining the pile easier.

When using the active method, it is best ot start with a full compost bin. This provides enough organic material to insulate the pile and keep the microbes working hard. You may want to stockpile some materials until you have enough to build a full pile. As you build the pile, layer your greens and browns and add water. Turn your pile at least once a week and add water if needed. Your compost should be kept moist, but not soggy. If your pile is too wet, add shredded newspaper or leave the lid off your bin until excess moisture is dried up.

During the first few weeks of the composting process, the pile will heat up to temperatures of 120 to 150 degrees, helping to speed decomposition and kill any plant diseases and weed seeds. Your compost will be almost ready when it fails to heat up after turning. At this point, you should stop turning it ahd let it “cure” for two or three weeks. Finished compost can be ready to harvest in as little as 12 weeks.

Passive composting is less labor intensive than active composting, but it takes longer. Generally, passive composing is done by adding green and brown materials as they’re generated, rather than starting with a full bin. You also turn and add water to the pile less frequently, about once a month. The pile won’t get as hot and it may dry out at times, so it won’t decompose as quickly and may not kill any weed seeds. But compost will “happen” in about six to 18 months. Bins with doors near the bottom are designed to make harvesting the finished compost easier.