Composting is good for the environment and great for your lawn. Winter’s lull, with fewer lawn and garden duties, provides the perfect opportunity to plan and implement a simple composting regimen. Follow our beginner’s guide to get started, and you’ll have nutrient rich food for your lawn by spring.
What is composting?
Composting turns organic material, like kitchen scraps and lawn waste, into a supplement to top dress your lawn or to mix with your garden soil. Composted material adds important minerals that contribute to the health and growth of your grass, garden, shrubs and trees.
Starting your own compost pile not only helps feed your lawn and garden naturally — and inexpensively — it also diverts waste from landfills. According to the University of Georgia Extension Service, up to 20 percent of landfill waste comes from landscapes in the form of grass clippings, leaves and plant trimmings. Because lawn waste makes up such a large amount of what goes to landfills, some landfills now restrict or limit leaves, grass clippings, and other vegetation from being dumped.
Fortunately, organic fodder for your compost heap is as near as your own yard. Plant material such as grass clippings, small twigs, non-woody trimmings and autumn leaves are excellent sources for composting.
Not all yard material is suitable for composting, however. Woody branches from trees and bushes, for example, take too long to decompose. Weeds, diseased plant material or clippings recently treated with herbicides or pesticides can contaminate compost. Also, be sure your yard material is free of pet waste, which is not suitable for compost.
Many organic materials from your kitchen are perfect for composting. Leftover vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds are all good choices, but avoid using any meat, meat products or processed foods. Also avoid whole eggs, dairy products, grease and oils, which attract rodents and other hungry critters.
Building the Pile
Experts recommend keeping your compost pile in some type of container, and large plastic storage bins provide a quick and easy way to begin. Specially designed compost bins, some of which allow for easy turning, are available at most home and garden centers as well.
To start a compost pile, you need a mix of green waste, like green grass clippings or kitchen waste, and brown waste, like dried leaves or other dried plant material.
Layer your compost pile to hasten decomposition and to make mixing easier. Begin by filling your container with several inches of brown waste and moisten with water. If you don’t have dried leaves from your lawn, shredded newspapers work as well.
Next add a layer of green waste and moisten. Top that with a 1-inch layer of soil and moisten. Continue filling your container with alternating layers, moistening between, and ending with soil on top.
Do not overwater; material should be moist but not soggy. Also avoid compacting the layers. Oxygen must circulate to support decomposition and minimize odors. Cover your bin, but make sure it is ventilated.
Maintaining the Pile
Once or twice per month, mix the contents of the bin to aerate. If the bin begins to smell, mixing should alleviate the odor. If the pile becomes dry, add water to moisten as you mix. The pile should shrink in size over time and produce heat up to 160° — a sure sign of decomposition.
The composting process generally takes from two to four months. After that, you’ll have nutrient rich compost that you can use to top dress your lawn (1/4 inch or less), to mulch around your trees and shrubs, or add to your garden soil next spring.