Anyone Can Do It

Have you ever taken a walk in the woods, noticed how rich the soil is, and wonder why there is so much topsoil when your yard has none? Nature has been composting organic materials for eons. You can take these simple steps to improve the environment and reduce solid waste.

Composting is an easy and efficient way to dispose of organic waste. Compost is a nutrient-rich material used to improve the quality of the soil. Unlike manmade fertilizers, which only help the plant grow, compost converts Maryland’s clay soil into topsoil. The beauty of this is that once the soil has become topsoil, it will last for years, feeding plants without the need for manmade fertilizer. This reduces the amount of nitrogen that gets into streams, improving water quality.

Raw material (leaves and chicken bedding)

Credit: - David Barrow

The following steps are used for making compost:

  1. Create your compost by adding 2 parts of carbon for 1 part nitrogen.

  2. Add some of your old compost (not required, but composts faster). This will add microorganisms which will feed on the organic material to help break it down.

  3. Mix the compost.

  4. Make sure the compost is always kept moist (40% to 60%), not wet.

  5. Weekly, turn your compost to loosen the material, which adds air. Each week, you will find the organic material slowly breaking down. Your pile will heat up during the process. If your pile is between 90 and 130 degrees, you are doing a slow composting. When you have the right material mix, the compost heats up to 130 and 160, causing fast composting to occur. At this temperature, all weeds and seeds are destroyed. If the compost gets over 160, you should add some water and turn it, as temperatures this high can kill the microorganisms and has the potential to spontaneously combust.

  6. The compost is completed when the temperature drops to about 80 o degrees (approximately eight weeks). At this point, you can start a new pile and add the compost to any area you want to improve the soil.

Finished compost (after 2 to 3 months)

Credit: - David Barrow

My wife and I have composted using different methods such as the tumbler. Tumblers are great for smaller properties where you have mostly food scraps, few leaves, and paper products to compost. Our tree farm creates too many leaves for the tumbler, so we have moved on to larger compost piles. Annually we make 15 cubic yards of compost.

Methods to compost include tumblers, wire mesh containers, open air piles, and windrows. Tumblers are best for city neighborhoods where you have limited space and want to keep odors to a minimum. Wire mesh allows more surface area to have access to air, speeding the process. Some people substitute old wooden pallets for the wire mesh. Open air piles can be either placed and not turned, which takes six months to complete, or you can regularly turn the pile and finish the compost in as little as eight weeks. Windrows are generally done by large operations. They are typically 100 feet long and have mechanical equipment turn the compost.

Another benefit of composting is to reduce the amount of trash that is sent to the landfill. Once in the landfill, it has no value, whereas if you keep it on your property, you can improve the soil and/or use it as bedding material in gardens. Typical families who recycle and compost reduce the amount of trash that goes to the landfill to 20% of their total waste. This saves money and reduces the amount of landfill space required.

The key to composting is putting the right mix of Browns and Greens. Browns are organic material that are loaded with carbon. Greens are nitrogen rich materials. Use the following chart to maintain two part browns to one part green.

Article by David Barrow, FCFCDB

Nature Note for 7/8/2018