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Making Compost

The first thing you’ll want to do is find a good location and build or acquire a means of containing your compost. The compost needs to get hot and needs air flow for ventilation, so a sunny, open location seems right. However too much sun and too much wind can dry out the compost which will slow the decomposition process. Find a warm protected area with partial sun. If you have neighbors nearby, you may want to consider that as well!

You will need a means of containing the compost matter. This will reduce its footprint in your yard, aid the decomposition process, and limit matter being blown out of the pile and littering your yard. Size depends on how much you want to compost and how much space you have. Compost piles can be built in four foot square fenced areas with the compost getting as much as four foot high. Don’t exceed six foot in height or the weight will compress the compost and hinder decomposition. An area this big can be built with wire fencing, wood pallets, or even hay bales. Most of us don’t need such a large area nor do we have the back yard space to spare for it. But if you are building your own area, shoot for at least three foot by three foot. Optimal decomposition requires three cubic feet of matter. There are number of commercially available compost containment options available for those of you that don’t want to build your own or for those looking to compost smaller amounts of material.

Now that you have decided on a location and acquired a means of containing your compost, you are ready to start adding material. You’ll want to add about two thirds dry or brown material and one third green or moist material. Dry materials include leaves, newspaper, and wood chips or saw dust. Shred the material first to aid in decomposition. Green matter is made up of grass clippings and kitchen waste, like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells and nutshells. You can grind kitchen waste to help the composting process. Avoid materials that cause odors, attract pests, or promote disease. These include meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, pet feces, weeds that have gone to seed, and diseased plants. Layer the material in your pile, starting with approximately four inches of dry matter and adding roughly two inches of green matter. Continue layering until you are out of material or the compost container is full. Once your compost pile is full, you should avoid adding new material. It is best to start a new pile for the fresh material.

The last step is proper maintenance. The organic matter will decompose naturally in about a year, but proper maintenance, including mixing frequently and managing moisture levels, will cut the processing time significantly and reduce odors. Mixing or turning the compost can be done with a pitchfork. This provides oxygen that is necessary for decomposition. You should mix our turn your compost once or twice a week for faster results. Odors indicate more frequent mixing is necessary. The pile should remain damp, about the moistness of a squeezed sponge, so occasional watering may be necessary in dry conditions. Covering the pile with black plastic or using an enclosed container will reduce moisture loss and, as an added benefit, it will reduce rainwater from leaching out valuable nutrients.