The growing season draws nigh and you might have thought about what you want to put in your garden.
To help your garden grow, you might consider composting your kitchen scraps into fertilizer.
The Cooperative Extension has made a checklist of twelve steps to backyard composting, from what to use to how to do it.
- Obtain a simple enclosure to hold about one cubic yard of organic material. A simple, inexpensive bin can be constructed from an 11-foot length of welded fence wire cut from a 48-inch-wide roll with a 2-inch by 4-inch mesh. Join the two ends to form a cylinder. If a larger bin is needed, use five wooden shipping pallets. Lay one down, then stand the other four pallets up to form the four sides. Tie the corners together.
- Obtain a long-handled pitchfork for handling the organic material and the compost.
- Get a five-gallon bucket for carrying water and compost material, or use a water hose and wheelbarrow.
- Put the compost bin on a flat surface convenient to the kitchen and near the garden.
- Start the compost pile. This may be done any time of the year.
-Fill the compost bin and keep it full. Start with shredded leaves, yard trimmings, food scraps (not grease or greasy materials) and wet paper towels, depending on material available.
-Add the food scraps to the center of the compost pile. Do not “dump and run.” Use your pitchfork. Never leave food scraps showing in the pile.
- Turn your compost pile one week after starting, at two-week intervals for two months and then as often as you wish. When you squeeze the composting material in your hand and do not feel moisture, add water to the pile.
-When the pile no longer needs turning, remove the wire mesh bin. If you do not use the compost immediately, mound up the composted material and cover it with plastic to keep it dry.
- Reload your bin as additional material becomes available. The material will shrink, but keep the bin full. Stockpile leaves to add to your pile as needed to keep the bin full.
- Two bins are recommended. When a bin is full, don’t continue to add material. Manage it into compost and start filling the second bin.
- Use the finished compost in the garden as a mulch or soil conditioner. To make compost into soil, screen it and mix two parts screened compost with one part sand. If you don’t have a garden, donate your compost to a church, school or neighborhood park.
Cooperative Extension Agent Paige Burns said, “Composting isn’t really as easy as we would like it to be. You need to have a substantial mass to get things going.”
Burns said that sometimes people keep adding to the compost instead of turning it and letting it decompose first. That will slow down and stop the process. A certain mix of chemicals is also necessary.
“You need a good amount of carbon and nitrogen to feed the microbes that break it down,” said Burns. “Most kitchen scraps have nitrogen. You need a certain ratio.”
Burns said the key to composting is frequent aeration, and rotating the mass at least once a week. Heat is a critical component as well.
“It’s sort of like a campfire,” said Burns. Like a fire, air must be added to build the heat. Composting happens when the heat climbs, as it helps to break down the materials by making them soft and speeding up enzymes that begin the break-down process.
Worms can help, too.
“Worm bins are awesome,” said Burns.
Worm bins, or vermicomposting systems are simple and inexpensive. According to the Cooperative Extension, “All you will need are a worm bin, bedding, water, worms and your food scraps.
A suitable bin can be constructed of untreated, non-aromatic wood or a plastic container can be purchased. For two people producing about three and a half pounds of food scraps per week, a box two feet by two feet and eight inches deep should be adequate.
Redworms or “wigglers” are recommended for use, as they break down organic matter the fastest.
According to Burns, all worms occupy a different niche in nature, and wigglers occupy the area closest to the surface of the soil and can turn relatively whole organic matter into fertile soil.
The worms need betting material in which to burrow and to bury the garbage. It should be a nontoxic, fluffy material that holds moisture and allows air to circulate. Suitable materials include shredded paper such as black and white newspapers, paper bags, computer paper or cardboard. For a two-person bin, four to six pounds of bedding is required.
To keep bedding moist, add three pints of water for each pound of bedding.
Feed your worms any non-meat organic waste such as vegetables, fruits, eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, paper coffee filters and shredded garden waste. This is the same ground-rule for compost piles. No dairy products, grease, fat, tobacco products or meats should be added to the mix. Also, if you add pet waste into the mix, you run the risk of transmitting diseases to yourself and others if you add the compost to your vegetable garden.
A wiggler’s favorite foods are cantaloupe, watermelon and pumpkin.
Adding too much food will cause the mass to stink. Let the worms catch up and the smell should fade. Bury fruits so flies won’t be attracted to the bin. When worms reproduce, they create match-head-sized cocoons. Do not disturb them. Don’t be surprised to see other creatures in your worm bin, as they help break down the organic material. Most of the organisms will be too small to see, but you may spot white worms, spring-tails, pill bugs, molds, mites and fruit flies.
“The main thing is, it’s a neat thing,” said Burns. “I do it at home. It’s not as easy as you think. It does take a little bit of effort. It’s a good exercise to put stuff from the kitchen back into the garden. That’s sustainability, it’s what we aim for. It’s not for everybody. You get into the habit of it, and you feel weird about throwing stuff away.”
For more information on composting, visit the Richmond County Cooperative Extension for pamphlets or to speak to an agent.
Staff Writer Dawn Kurry can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ex. 43, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.