The Ins and Outs of Outdoor Composting

Composting OVerview

Just about everyone believes in recycling these days.  Out of all the recycling possibilities out there, I can’t think of anyone more natural and cost-effective than composting.

Composting transforms organic leftovers and scraps into a rich humus that can improve the soil used for your garden, landscape bushes, fruit trees, or potted plants.  Although you will need to gather some materials for effective composting the process takes place without much work on your part. All it needs is time.

Getting Started

Building a compost pile outside is the most common way to compost.  To build a compost pile, you’re going to need a semi-enclosed space to build it. You can build one out of many cheap and easily obtained materials such as old pallets, scrap lumber, concrete blocks, and straw bales.  Space should have three sides with the fourth “side” being open. It helps to have at least two such spaces so that when you have finished building one pile, you have a space to start a second pile.  You should also have a space to store your carbonaceous cover material.

The cover material is what you will use to start the pile and cover your additions.  Food scraps often contain higher levels of nitrogen and moisture which will need to be balanced out with a more carbonaceous, dry material.  The cover material also insulates the pile from odors and builds air spaces into the pile for aerobic composting. Straw makes a great cover material, but leaves and grass clippings work well too.

Begin Composting

To start the pile, lay down a thick layer of straw on the bottom of the composting space.  The straw layer will help to absorb moisture from the pile.  Next, add vegetable and other food scraps and cover those with straw.

Since for the most part, you will be accumulating kitchen scraps in small amounts, you can store them indoors in a five-gallon bucket.  To reduce odors, cover the scraps with sawdust, peat moss or finely shredded paper at the end of each day.  When the bucket is full, you can then carry it to the compost pile.

Composting works at high temperatures, between 110 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  The material you add will already contain the microorganisms that start to break it down and raise the temperature of the pile.  You can measure the temperature of your pile with a compost thermometer.  It’s like a meat thermometer, except the probe is around 20 inches long.If the temperature doesn’t get hot enough you could try watering it.  Compost piles absorb a surprising amount of moisture.  You can also add some raw manure to the pile as an additional source of nitrogen.  Make sure there is plenty of aeration provided by the layers of cover material.  After a while, the pile will cool down and then it needs to age for up to a year or more to complete the process. -ServiceMaster composter

Outdoor composting is as much an art as a science and it may take some experimentation and education to get it working just right for your situation.  But once you do, it’s one of the most rewarding ways to recycle.

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