NDSU Extension Service - Sargent County

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Composting 101

Earlier this summer my husband and I traveled to Montana to spend a weekend visiting a friend of mine who had been my roommate in college.  She and her husband are ranchers.  As she and I were cleaning up after dinner, I noticed the bowl she had on the counter near her sink.  It was her composting bowl. 

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service Food and Nutrition Specialist provided information about composting in a recent news column.  I’d like to share it with you today. 

Composting is a natural form of recycling that serves a variety of purposes. If you enjoy gardening, composting provides soil amendments to add to your garden. Instead of going to the landfill, your vegetable peels can be broken down by bacteria and other microbes to produce rich material to add to your garden.

Think "green" or "brown" when deciding what to compost, but leave out the protein foods such as leftover meat. Green materials include lawn clippings and kitchen waste. Brown materials include leaves and wood chips.

Egg shells can go in the compost bin, but do not add foil, plastic and paper products to your compost bin. Leave out diseased plants and weeds that have gone to seed.

A variety of invisible organisms, including bacteria, and visible organisms, including earthworms, feed on the plant material. As a result of the action of these "critters," the plant material warms within your compost pile. Warm temperatures above 110 F promote the breakdown of the materials.

If you decide to begin composting, you can purchase a structure or build your own using plans in the resources provided with this article. Consider these tips if you want to begin composting:

* Choose a good location to place your compost bin. It should be level and have drainage, with access to water (rain or your garden hose). Because compost bins are not always attractive to your neighbors, consider a little camouflage. You may want to hide your bin or surround it with flowers or plants.

* Consider a bin no smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet and no larger than 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet.

* Be sure to mix the material thoroughly. Use a pitchfork.

* Keep the compost pile moist but not too wet. During dry weather, you may want to "water" the compost weekly.

* Avoid adding branches. If you use them, chop them in a wood chipper first.

* Cover the pile with a tarp or other cover during dry weather. This helps prevent moisture loss and excess moisture from heavy rain.

* Turn the pile before the major freeze if you add a lot of leaves in the fall.

* Do not turn the pile during the winter in cold climates.

* Be patient. Depending on the environmental conditions and composition, compost may be ready to use within six months (May to October).

For more tips and details, see refer to Extension Service web-based composting guides.  Such guides are available from NDSU Extension, University of Maryland Extension, and University of Illinois Extension:

* North Dakota State University Extension Service: http://tinyurl.com/compostingpractices

* University of Maryland Extension: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/soils/compost

* University of Illinois Extension: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/building.cfm

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