What is compost? Why start composting? Pick a place. Build your pile. Active (hot) vs. passive (cool). How do I use it? Resources to learn more.
Compost Through History Akkadian Empire in the Mesopotamian Valley referred to use of manure in agriculture on clay tablets in 23 rd Century BC. Romans and Greeks knew about compost. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet advised: “Do not spread the compost on the weeds, to make them ranker.”
Famous Composters Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison. All were farmers. All used compost. George Washington Carver said, “…a compost pile is essential and can be had with little labor and practically no cash outlay.”
Compost, the Early Years New England farmers made compost: 10 parts muck to 1 part fish, periodically turning the heaps until the fish disintegrated (except the bones!). In 1905, British agronomist learned best compost consisted of three times as much plant matter as manure.
What is Compost? Organic material from decomposition of carbon (dried leaves), nitrogen (food scraps). Happens naturally – certain techniques accelerate the process. Dark, crumbly, soil-like.
Why is it Important? Reduces waste stream. Yard and food waste = 30% of landfill Improves soil structure. Retains moisture, slows run-off from rain. Reduces need for fertilizer.
Starting a Compost Pile Select a location – away from the house. Make your own, buy a tub, use pallets for 3-bin style.
Starting your Compost Pile - Ideal size is 3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft. (27 cubic ft.) Easier to turn, aerobic action -No larger than 5 x 5 x 5 -Can become anaerobic
What goes in your Compost Carbon: dried leaves Nitrogen: food scraps, plants Water: moisture Oxygen
Turn it to add Oxygen Keep the worms, bugs, microbes happy and eating your browns and greens. Use a pitch fork to turn the pile.
A Few Things to Avoid - Meat, bones - Dairy products - Fats and oils - Pet feces (dog, cat, other carnivores) These can attract critters you don’t want, may create odd odors, or contain harmful bacteria/parasites.
Active (hot) vs. Passive (cool) Hot composting Materials added all at once. Temperatures 110 to 140. Finished in three to four months. Cool composting –Continuous pile. Add material as it’s available. –Trench. Kitchen scraps placed 12” deep and covered immediately. Typically near garden. –Sheet. Layers of newsprint, yard waste, dried leaves. Ready in six to eight months (next season).
Troubleshooting Materials not decomposing: Add water, turn pile to add oxygen, add more greens Ammonia odor: Add browns such leaves, straw Rotten odor: Turn pile, add coarse dry materials. Bury food scraps
How to use your Compost Mulch for garden, fruit trees Top dressing on flowering plants Soil improvement, helps to change structure – Enhances moisture retention in sandy soil – Improves drainage in clay soil – Attracts earthworms which aerate soil
Compost Demonstration Sites Master Gardeners offer how-to advice at five locations in Howard County from April to November. Free bins to County residents. Schooley Mill Park Centennial Park Alpha Ridge Landfill Miller Branch library Robinson Nature Center
Top 10 Reasons to Compost 10. Be environmentally responsible. 9. Reduce need for chemical fertilizers, mulch. 8. Create a healthy landscape. 7. Improve the quality of your soil. 6. Reduce amount of yard waste going to landfill. 5. Protect the Chesapeake Bay and watershed. 4. Decrease water use in your landscape. 3. Protect privacy. Use shredded personal papers! 2. It's easy. Good exercise. 1. Free bin for Howard County residents!
Resources to Learn More Home and Garden Information Center extension.umd.edu/hgic/resources HC Bureau of Environmental Services howardcountymd.gov/composting.htm Howard County Master Gardeners
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