Earth Day Is April 22;
Spend It in the Garden
Give Something Back to the Earth: Compost
by Kathy Reshetiloff
Since the first Earth Day, Americans have recycled paper, cans and glass. But theres a lot more we can recycle.
Waste produced in this country has more than doubled, from 88 million tons in 1960 to about 225 million tons in 2000, According to the Energy Information Administration. Yard trimmings and food scraps make up about 25 percent. Thats more than 56 million recyclable tons. If youre not composting, youre not really recycling.
Compost is organic materials, such as leaves, grass and food scraps, decomposed by microorganisms into a recycled, earthy-smelling, soil-like material.
Composting is easier and cheaper than bagging yard waste for the landfill. Whats more, compost added to your soil provides essential nutrients, helps retain water in sandy soil and breaks up heavy clay soils.
How to Compost
A compost pile is really a just a microbial farm teeming with bacteria. Bacteria start the decaying process; fungi and protozoan join in and finally beetles, worms and centipedes finish the job.
Anything growing is potential food for decomposers. Carbon and nitrogen in plant cells provide fuel for microbes. Microorganisms use the carbon as an energy source. Nitrogen provides the raw material of protein to build their bodies.
Everything organic has a carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) ranging from 550:1 for sawdust to 15:1 for table scraps. A C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for a compost pile, You can get this ratio by mixing two part of grass clippings to one part of leaves. The C:N ratio can be simplified as browns for carbon (leaves, straw, woody materials) and greens for nitrogen (grass and food scraps). Whether making a compost pile or using a bin, start by laying and mixing browns and greens.
The more surface area your compost has, the faster microbes can decompose the material. Chopping up waste provides more surface area. A large compost pile will insulate easily and holds heat. Small piles (smaller than three cubic feet) have trouble holding heat, while those bigger than five cubic feet dont allow enough air. Microbes function best in material thats about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
What To Compost
Leaves, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds with filters, tea bags, fireplace ash, vacuum cleaner lint, wool and cotton rags, sawdust, old potting soil, twigs
What Not To Compost
Meats, dairy foods, fats, oils (including peanut butter & mayonnaise), grease, pet excrement, fish scraps, diseased plants, bones.
There is a bad odor, there is not enough air or the pile is too wet. Turn the pile and add course dry materials such as straw
The center of pile is dry, there is not enough water or too much woody material. Turn the pile, moisten and add green wastes.
The compost is damp and warm in the middle but nowhere else, it is too small. Add more material.
The pile is damp and sweet smelling but will not heat up, there is not enough nitrogen. Mix in nitrogen sources like grass clippings.
Composting reduces the amount of waste in landfills or incinerators. The resulting compost provides nutrients for lawns, gardens, landscape plants and farmlands. Using this rich natural fertilizer means less dependence on costly, chemical fertilizers, a major pollutant to waterways and Chesapeake Bay.
Still unsure about composting? Check out these free services:
- Quiet Waters Park has a self-guided tour of many different backyard composting methods, including a variety of retail and homemade composting bins and compost pile. The project is located along the Wildwood Trail, on the east side of the park, which is open 7am to dusk; closed Tuesdays: 600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., Annapolis. $4 parking fee: 410/222-1777.
- Composting seminars, master composters will explain the benefits as well as what and how to compost. You can also take home a composting bin. The seminars are free but you must register with the county Recycling Office at 410/222-7951.
- April 28 at Quiet Waters Park; 7-8:30pm.
- May 22 at Crofton Library; 7-8:30pm.