It's Time to Think About Composting

Roy Thomas
Adams County Master Gardener

With winter finally winding down, gardeners are looking forward to the long growing season ahead with excitement and a grateful sign that Spring is finally on the way. Who among us doesn't approach this time of year with high hopes and great expectations for the best garden ever. Yet, in the midst of shopping greenhouses and ordering seeds, we often overlook investing in a home compost pile and the benefits it can provide to the garden.

If you're one of those gardeners who still doesn't have a compost pile, now is the time to think about beginning one. Compost piles are excellent sources of the "brown gold" that produces prize-winning flowers and vegetables and help in recycling many materials that would normally end up in overflowing landfills: a win-win proposition not only for the gardener but also for Mother Nature.

Many people are conscientious about recycling newspapers, aluminum cans and plastic bags but overlook the many materials used in day-to-day living that could be incorporated into a home compost pile. The process of backyard composting is very simple: place the many food items that normally end up in the trash or the kitchen disposal in the compost pile. These include such items as orange and grapefruit peels, apple and potato peels, vegetable trimmings, eggshells, nut shells, coffee grounds, and tea leaves, to name just a few.

Most people throw out houseplants and annual flowers that are past their prime. These plants along with the potting soil and vermiculite mixture they're planted in should be incorporated into the compost pile. Fall leaves are now gone but will surely return next year. They should be composted, along with all that is cleaned up from the garden and flowerbeds. As an example, I have composted all of the flowers removed from the square in Gettysburg to put in my compost bins along with the grass clippings from the Agricultural and Natural Resources Center grounds on the Old Harrisburg Road.

Composting is the natural way to break down plant materials. Compost piles work most quickly if two important chemicals, nitrogen and carbon, are in balance. Old, usually brown and dry plant materials, like autumn leaves, straw, hay and sawdust are rich in carbon. Nitrogen rich materials include green plant parts like vegetable waste from the kitchen.

A good rule of thumb for composting is that if it comes from the soil, it should be returned to the soil. There are a few exceptions such as diseased plants, poison ivy, or weeds that have gone to seed.

Read other spring related gardening articles

Read other spring related gardening articles

Read other articles by Roy Thomas