It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned “green thumb” gardener or a novice just starting out, if you want to catch the latest wave of composting, there are a myriad of ways to compost and make use of those grass clippings, incinerator ashes, tree leaves, and other yard and tree waste.
Grass Clippings Made Easy
Grass clippings add necessary nitrogen to a compost pile, but be sure to mix green material with the “brown” materials, such as dead leaves, hay, and wood chips, because they add carbon. “Green” material consists primarily of grass clippings and leaves. Both the “brown” materials and green grass clippings are necessary for quick decomposition and rich compost. Piles made up of just grass will compact, slow down the process and create an annoying odor.
From Ashes to Dust
Fireplace ashes for compost can be used to help maintain the neutral condition of the compost. It can also add nutrients to the soil. Decomposing some materials in the compost pile can become somewhat acidic, but wood ash can help offset this, as it’s more alkaline in nature. If adding ashes to your compost bin, do so sparingly because they are alkaline and will affect the pH of the pile. In contrast, acidic materials include pine needles and oak leaves.
Mix it Up…Variety is a Plus
Too much of any one material will slow down the composting process. If you have all leaves, all grass clippings or an overload of any other single type of material, it can throw off the balance of the pile. In general, it’s good to keep a mix of green and brown material. One way to add variety is to include various everyday food scraps. These can include fruit and fruit skins from apples, oranges, and bananas. Other food scraps such vegetable peels, eggshells, and potato skins are especially effective.
Aerate to Let Your Compost “Breath”
Keep your compost aerated! If you are composting with a tumbling composter, make sure you turn it whenever you add new materials. If you are composting with a pile, or in a static (non-tumbling) compost bin, be sure to mix up the contents so that the pile gets oxygen and can break down effectively. How often you should turn compost depends on a number of factors including size of the pile, green to brown ratio and amount of moisture in the pile. That being said, a good rule of thumb is to turn a compost tumbler every three to four days and the compost pile every three to seven days.
The Science Behind Nitrogen and Carbon
The microbes responsible for breaking down your compost pile need a balanced diet of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from green materials such as food scraps, manure and grass clippings. Carbon comes from brown materials such as dead leaves, hay, wood chips and shredded newspaper. A ratio that contains equal portions by weight (not volume) of both works best.
“Cooking” Your Compost in the Ideal Temperature
Since the compost process works best at temperature between 120 and 150 degrees, composting in the warmer months is easier to do. As a general rule, direct sunlight is not necessary to heat your compost because it will generate its own heat internally. If you are just starting out, your first attempt at composting should be during the summer months. Depending on where you live in California, anywhere from mid-June to mid-September are the ideal months. As the temperatures increase throughout the day, the compost will heat up internally, and begin offering good results.