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Composting

Living on a farm, it is easy for me to do. If anyone who owns their own home or maybe if you are renting a home or if you live out in the country and don’t farm, you can do this too. Composting. The No. 1 way methane gets into the environment is from people throwing away food or organic materials into their trash. We are also losing a great opportunity to use these materials to help out our soils in our gardens whether they are vegetable or perennial gardens.

You really don’t need any fancy equipment but it is out there if you want to build it or purchase it. You really only need an ice cream pail, a rubber spatula and somewhere to make a pile. Depending on what your goals are, you can compost the following items in your pile or compost structure.

Food scraps including fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, coffee filters, teabags, paper towels and toilet paper rolls, eggshells, faded flowers, lake plants, plants left over from the end of the growing season (do not add in diseased plants though), shredded paper, small amounts of wood ash or sawdust, small amounts of leaves or grass clippings (make sure the grass was not treated for weeds or insects before placing into the pile), and weeds. These are all of the items that you can place into your compost pile. You only have to add water if Mother Nature doesn’t provide and you only have to turn it once or twice a month.

It is easy to maintain the pile once you have it going. A well done, active compost pile will heat up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit with most maintaining the temperature between 130 and 160. You can always add in a little fresh material at a time but you might find that starting a second pile will work better for you. It is hard to believe that you can have fresh compost within 2-4 months if you tend the pile. If you don’t it will take about one year to make good compost. Compost that is ready will smell like earth and it will be about half the size of the original pile.

Outside of making sure there is enough water and turning the pile, there are a few small rules to also follow when it comes to composting. According to the U of M Extension “Sawdust requires the addition of extra nitrogen. Wood ash raises compost alkalinity and may result in nitrogen loss from the pile. There should be little need to compost grass, since it is safe to leave clippings on the lawn if you mow regularly and remove only one-third of the blade length each time. If you do compost grass, mix it with other yard waste. Grass clippings pack down and restrict airflow. This limits the availability of oxygen needed by microorganisms for decomposition.”

There are, of course, items that cannot be composted. They are pet feces, meat, bones, grease, whole eggs and dairy products. And again, it is in a gardener’s best interest to not add in insect-infested plants or weeds or plants that have diseases. If you have weeds that have a lot of weed seeds attached, these too should be avoided.

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, we are looking for new volunteers to work with our group. Keep a watchful eye out for more details next time about upcoming opportunities to learn more about gardening in April.

For more information on gardening, you can reach me at s.dejaeghere@me.com

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