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Composting needs correct setup, attention

Thursday, June 27, 2013

By Jason Baker

OSU Ext. Master Gardener Volunteer

Composting is a mixture of various decaying organic substances, such as leaves or manure that are broken down by aerobic bacteria, then used for fertilizing soil.

Homeowners that compost reduce air and water pollution, save energy and conserve natural resources.

Home composters have many choices on what materials to compost, including vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and yard waste.

Composting can be performed at most locations that are suitable. Ideal sites are sunny and well drained.

Choosing the correct compost unit is important.

Compost bins range from repurposed wood pallets to manufactured plastic units.

The most interesting unit available is a “worm box” which can be used for limited space locations (called vermicomposting).

Composting bins are often placed in or near the garden.

Home composters often have two or more bins to allow for faster composting. The bins have to be filled and emptied by hand in home recycling.

With limited space, vermicomposting using a worm box is ideal for use in apartments. This type of composting is unique because it does not rely on the forces of nature but on the mouths of hungry worms.

To begin composting it is important to have the correct ratio of nitrogen to carbon or green to brown materials present.

Examples of green materials are grass clippings, food scraps and fresh manure. Brown material examples are straw, sawdust and woodchips.

To start a compost pile is like making lasagna. The minimum bin size recommended for efficient is 4 feet square and 4 feet tall.

Start by first putting down a layer of coarse brown material followed by a layer of green until the pile reaches a height of four feet.

Some moisture may need to be added if the pile is too dry. A moisture level of 40 percent to 60 percent is ideal.

Once the bin is full it can be left to sit for six to 12 months for the decomposition process to take place.

Decomposition can be sped up by turning and chopping the pile every couple weeks. This turning process is necessary to kill any harmful bacteria (and some weed seeds), ensuring all materials in the pile are completely composted.

The internal temperature of the pile can reach upwards of 150 degrees, killing most pathogens and seeds in the compost.

Once the process is complete, the compost will look like soil and have an earthy aroma. It can be used for flower and garden soil amendments.

For more composting information, visit