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The Benefits of Composting
- Composting removes food waste from the environment where it can pollute groundwater and streams.
- Good composting destroys pathogens and produces a safe soil amendment.
- Good composting produces a quality soil additive that improves both the physical condition and fertility of the soil.
|Browns = High Carbon||Greens = High Nitrogen|
Stems and twigs, shredded
*Avoid weeds that have gone to seed, as seeds may survive all but the hottest compost piles.
Materials to Avoid
Coal Ash – Most ashes are safe to mix into your compost pile, but coal ashes are not. They contain sulfur and iron in amounts high enough to damage plants.
Colored Paper – Some paper with colored inks (including newsprint) contain heavy metals or other toxic materials and should not be added to the compost pile.
For years, the vehicle was petroleum-based, but the industry is slowly switching over to soy- or vegetable-based inks. Pigments themselves still contain heavy metals such as zinc and copper, although overall amounts of heavy metals have been reduced.
Diseased Plants – It takes an efficient composting system and ideal conditions (extreme heat) to destroy many plant diseases. If the disease organisms are not destroyed they can be spread later when the compost is applied. Avoid questionable plant materials.
Inorganic Materials – This stuff won’t break down and includes aluminum foil, glass, plastics and metals.
Pressure-treated lumber should also be avoided because it’s treated with chemicals that could be toxic in compost.
It’s been almost two years since the Environmental Protection Agency struck a deal with the wood-treatment industry to phase out production of lumber permeated with chromated copper arsenate, or CCA. About 90% of all pressure-treated wood contains the arsenic-based compound. Industry experts estimate that 75 billion feet of CCA-treated boards are in use nationwide — enough to stretch halfway around the world.
Materials to Avoid
Meat, Bones, Fish, Fats, Dairy – These products can “overheat” your compost pile (not to mention make it stinky and attract animals). They are best avoided.
Pet Droppings – Dog or cat droppings contain several disease organisms and can make compost toxic to handle. (Can you believe the state of Alaska actually spent $25,000 on a study to determine the effects of composting dog poop? – PDF format)
Synthetic Chemicals – Certain lawn and garden chemicals (herbicides – pesticides) can withstand the composting process and remain intact in the finished compost. Poisons have no place in the natural micro-community of your compost pile.
Speeding Up the Compost Process
Compost decomposes fastest between 120 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, so anything that will increase the heat will “cook” your compost faster. Here are four tips for fast composting:
- Chop and shred larger items, which makes it easier for the bacteria to break them down. For example, one easy way is to slice and dice garden waste is to run your lawn mower over leaves and other garden waste. Take scissors to newsprint or cardboard.
- Turn, turn, turn.
- Give your compost heap a “big meal” versus small snacks. Collect all your organic waste over a couple of days and then add it in one big bunch. The more you add at one time, the more your compost will heat up.
- Keep your compost pile in the sun. The heat will speed up the process.
A compost activator contributes either high nitrogen, microorganisms, or both, and provides a quick boost to the decomposition process. Consider throwing some algae, seaweed or lake weed into the pile. Just be sure to rinse off any salt water before adding. You can also “jump start” your compost by adding aged manure, alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, blood meal or compost starter. Also you may want to add ashes from a wood-burning stove if you’ve added a lot of acidic materials such as pine needles and oak leaves. Wood ashes are alkaline and can help adjust the pH of your compost pile if it gets too acidic.