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What, Why and How

All about Compost


By Andrea Fowler


(Kŏm'post): A mixture of decaying organic matter, as from leaves and manure, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. (American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2009)


What is COMPOST? In simple terms, compost is decomposed organic matter. Organic matter is anything that was once living, was part of something living, or was produced by something living. Fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, manure, leaves, sawdust, eggshells, and straw are all examples of organic matter that can be used to make compost. However, it’s important to know that certain types of organic matter–such as  dairy products, meat, fish, bones, fats, oils, pet waste, diseased or insect-ridden plants, or plants that have been chemically treated–should not be used to make compost.

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 How to COMPOST?


First, designate a compost site. The backyard is a great location, primarily for aesthetic and olfactory reasons. Compost bins are often used, but they’re not essential. Make sure the site or pile is large enough to be effective, but small enough to be manageable. Then just follow the recipe! The bottom layer of the compost pile should be bare earth. Next, layer twigs or straw to help with drainage and aeration of the pile. Now alternate layers–moist (ex. food scraps) and dry (ex. leaves or straw). It is important to add manure or any other nitrogen source. Also make sure that the pile stays moist by watering with a hose or sprinkler or by rainfall. When the pile is sufficient, cover it with plastic sheeting, wood, a tarp, etc. The last step is to turn the pile every few weeks to give it some oxygen.


The compost is finished when it’s dark, rich in color, and the original contents should not be distinguishable. Just remember that compost can take anywhere from 3 to 12 months before it’s ready to use.


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A few helpful hints: