C is for compost

While I wait for spring to unfold, with colorful flowers and buds on the trees, I may as well take the opportunity to talk to you about something that you can do to help your garden grow better. Well, actually two somethings: composting and vermiculture. The purpose is the same, to produce a healthy soil amendment for your garden. The techniques are just a bit different.

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Last Thursday, I went to a presentation about these topics at the Welcome Center. It was organized by the Grand Island Farmers Market and sponsored by the town’s Conservation Advisory Board. The guest speaker was Bonnie Benton, who works with the Niagara County 4H Club as an educator on gardening, nature projects, and composting. 

Here are some of the tips that she offered for home gardeners who would like to create their own compost from kitchen scraps and yard waste. Bonnie said that compost is a great fertilizer and soil amendment. Her suggestions will help to improve the health of your gardens and, at the same time, it will also reduce the amount of waste that’s picked up by the garbage trucks each week.
  • composting is described as the “end product,” but it’s really part of a cycle. The food and yard waste is placed in a bin. Decomposers eat the waste, and the waste products are turned into compost. The compost is applied to plants, and the cycle begins again.
  • there are several types of bin that can be used. The best choice is dependent on the size of your yard. There are big bins with three containers and there are much smaller bins. Bonnie said that, for her, the ideal bin is three feet by three feet in size.
  • A mix of things that are mostly carbon and substances that are mostly nitrogen should be added to the bin. The mix should be two parts carbon to one part nitrogen. The carbon rich items are described as “browns” and the things that are rick in nitrogen are described as “greens.”
  • Browns that are good to put in the compost bin are shredded maple leaves, straw, and sawdust. The fastest way to shred leaves is to run a mulching lawnmower over the leaves
  • Greens that are good to put into a compost bin include vegetable and fruit waste, egg shells, coffee grounds, and garden waste. 
  • Decomposers are necessary in the composting process. Decomposers such organisms as ants, worms, centipedes, and millipedes.
  • Composting is a balance of water, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. It is considered part of the natural cycle and environmentally strong.
  • If there is too much nitrogen in the compst bin, the result would be a stinky, slimy mess.
  • If there is too much carbon in the compost bin, the result will be a dry bin without anything living in it. It will take a long time for the waste material to break down.
  • Things not to add to a compost bin would be meat and dairy products (they attract animals), bread (it will mold before it decomposes), oak leaves (they tend to be leathery and can sit in a compost bin for several years without decomposing), maple leaves with tar spots (those dark spots are spores), anything that has been treated with pesticides and herbicides (especially true if the compost will be used to amend the soil in vegetable gardens), weeds, cow and horse manure (they tend to be full of weed seed), grass (also full of weed seed), the peel of citrus fruit (the oil in the peel, limonene, appears to be toxic to humans.
  • The key to successful composting is stirring the mix regularly.
  • The lasagna method, which involves layering browns and greens. The brown layer can include plant waste, fruit and vegetable waste, straw, dried leaves, sawdust, and torn up paper. 
  • Vermiculture is creating compost, but on a smaller scale.  Vermiculture is a great thing for people who live in apartments or who do not have yards. It is done in stackable trays that can be kept in heated garages, basements, home offices, or living rooms. In fact the stacked trays can be made to look like furniture. It is full of worms who are happy as long as they are fed. You could add vegetable and fruit waste, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, and shredded cardboard. Done right, with lots of stirring, your compost bin will not have a bad odor.
  • Do you want to buy a compost bin? Here is your opportunity! Currently, Erie County is holding a sale of compost bins and rain barrels. They are being sold at wholesale prices, and the deadline for ordering them is May 3. Pickup times will be 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., May 15 and 16, and 9 a.m. to noon, May 18, at either the City of Buffalo Engineering Garage, 1120 Seneca St., or the Town of Wheatfield Town Hall, 2800 Church Road, North Tonawanda. When you order, specify the location and the time and date for pickup. For more information about ordering, call the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning at 716-858-6370 or email Mary.MacSwan@erie.gov.
Bonnie Benton describes the things that go into a vermiculture tray, while Jenn Jablon Pusatier displays one of the trays. 

8 thoughts on “C is for compost”

  1. Cerebrations.biz

    Composting has two seasons here- over the winter (when the leaves have just been harvested) and right about now, when we clear off the debris from our lawns.
    The big issue is that I generally employ the entire vegetable or fruit. (Except for carrot scrapings and sweet potato peels.)

  2. Glenda Thompson

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing. I'm running behind on my gardening but plan to get started this weekend, weather permitting.

  3. This is a great thing to do. I don't do this because I have a very tiny yard that is mostly covered with concrete and very few plants. Years ago when I still lived at home with my parents I kind of did some composting, not quite like you've described here, but at least it was something.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  4. I have to admit, we've had a compost heap for years. We bought it at a special Broome County event. We follow none of the "rules". We just throw vegetative matter in there and turn it a couple times a year. Needless to say, it takes a long time for items to decompose. I even tried worm culture and the worms died after two years. Some gardener I am!

  5. Holly Jahangiri

    We have a large bin in the back yard. You've probably seen the post on my blog, or the recent post with a picture of the sentient "slime mold" that lives in my compost bin. I'm not sure where it went… Anyway… composting is pretty easy, and it feels better than wasting veggie scraps, coffee grounds, cardboard, and leaves.

  6. Oh my goodness! I often learn from you, Alice, about things I never thought I would. I love the idea of a garden, but not the idea of all the work that goes into having it. Oh, well.

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