Sunday, July 3, 2016

Composting in the Yampa Valley by Andy Kennedy – Master Gardener

Compost: to rot your unused organic material in a way that it can be used as a compliment and amendment to existing soil. 

Composting in rural Colorado - a region robust with wildlife and challenged by severe weather- can be tricky, but it can be done. And it should be. Composting is a very important factor in the sustainability of our existence as it both reduces our waste (and impact on the environment) and improves our depleted soil (improving our environment).

The how is the challenge, but it’s easier than you might think. Compost is a natural process of organic decomposition, and if done right, will not attract wildlife or pests, will not be affected by weather, and will provide you with an amazing, free amendment for your soil. 

Items you will need:
A bin – can be purchased or home-made, but should be no bigger than one cubic yard.
A starter pile – should include 2 parts woody or brown material (dried leaves, sticks, straw, etc) and one part organic or green material (grass, kitchen scraps, etc).
Water – keep the pile moist but not sopping wet.
A pitchfork – if you use a home-made box, you’ll need to turn the pile frequently as the decomposition process needs oxygen to break down more quickly. Some purchased bins, like tumblers, will turn themselves.
Patience – it can take 6-12 months until your pile is a rich, dark soil material. 

In a backyard pile, to keep the animals away and grow soil that’s safe for your veggies, do not add meat products (meat, bones, broth), dairy, oils, human or animal waste products (feces), or any “compostable” materials such as compostable cups, paper products, or “cornware.” 

Your compost should not smell bad.  If you begin smelling an odor, add more brown material and turn more often. You also should not have bugs (flies, fruit flies, etc). If you do, reduce your acidic material (citrus fruits) or cover your pile with plastic. Covering will also increase the heat in the pile, and encourage more rapid decomposition. 

Worms make great dirt. “Vermiculture” is another technique that can be used to make a soil amendment, and worms can be added to your compost pile to speed up the process. Alternatively, you can try vermicomposting in an additional bin. 

The timing of adding to your compost pile is up to you, but know that very little decomposition will take place through the winter months. You can continue to compost food scraps, but bury them with material from a brown pile to avoid non-hibernating animal tampering. (A collection of fall leaves is great for a brown pile.)  You will not be able to, nor need to, turn your frozen pile in the winter, but as soon as it’s warm enough, begin to turn it.

When the compost is ready (crumbly texture and earthy smell), add it liberally to last year’s soil in your garden, pots, lawn, trees and shrubs. It is also good for indoor plants.

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