Steamboat Springs Each one of us disposes of nearly one ton of waste annually. That's a lot of landfill space unless we recycle kitchen and yard waste into rich, dark compost for personal use.
Just think of the things you bag up for disposal: grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, table scraps, newspapers. These are all waste items that can be composted for later use in your garden. By composting, we can remove a lot of household solid waste that is sent to a landfill for disposal. It's an Earth-friendly way to dispose of our trash. And, it's a smart way to garden.
Adding compost improves the drainage and aeration of your soil. It holds moisture in and releases fertilizer nutrients slowly while increasing the activity of earthworms and other organisms that are beneficial to plant growth.
To make compost, alternate small pieces of different types of green and brown waste material in approximately 7-inch layers. Green waste (needed for nitrogen) is fresh plant materials such as weeds from your yard, fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags, twigs, etc.
(Use caution when adding layers of very fine green material such as grass clippings since it can mat and prevent air and water movement through the layers.)
Brown wastes (needed for carbon) are dry and dead materials such as straw, dried weeds, newspapers, wood chips or sawdust.
(Do not use wood treated with preservatives or clippings from grass treated with chemicals.)
At the Yampa River Botanic Park, supervisor Gayle Noonan maintains several compost piles and recommends a compost heap that is between 3-feet-wide by 3-feet-high up to 5-feet-wide by 5-feet-wide as a manageable size. It can be simply a heap on the ground enclosed in fencing that allows air through, or placed into a special compost bin available through gardening centers.
"Don't use meat or dairy products," Gayle warns. "Animal wastes could cause odors and attract animals."
It's also not recommended to use fresh manure in compost, due to concerns about new strains of E.coli and other bacteria that cause human illness.
Mix the pile several times a month to add oxygen and keep the heat uniform throughout the materials. Because our summers here are so dry, you may also need to occasionally sprinkle water on your compost layers. It should be moist but not soggy throughout. If the compost is properly mixed and maintained, a final product may be obtained in one to two months under optimum summer conditions. It should shrink to about half of its original size and have a nice earthy smell.
Then use your beautiful compost as a soil amendment, a mulch or make compost tea (the liquid from a settled mix of half compost/half water) as a boost for house plants, seedlings and transplants. You'll be doing something good for your garden and for your community.
Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call the Master Gardeners at 879-0825 or e-mail your comments to: