Composting is for everyone

Roy Thomas
Adams County Master Gardener

It is time once again for the Penn State Master Gardeners of Adams County to offer their spring series of composting seminars. For quite a few years now, the Master Gardeners have been conducting compost training seminars and supplying free compost bins at each class. This program is the result of a grant from Penn State University to the Department of Environmental Protection to encourage backyard composting, and many county residents have already taken advantage of the training and learned about the many benefits of composting and recycling.

Backyard composting doesnít consist of merely dumping summerís grass clippings and autumnís dried leaves on the compost pile. There are many other kinds of refuse that we use in our daily lives, such as kitchen and household materials, that could easily be incorporated into our backyard compost pile.

Some of these are orange and grapefruit peels, apple and potato peels and vegetable scraps of all kinds, bread and grains, eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags. Most of us have annual flowers in pots that are tossed in the trash at the end of the growing season. These same plants are often potted up in a mixture of potting soil and vermiculite that makes a great addition to any compost pile. And while weíre at it, letís not forget to toss the spent annuals on the compost pile as well along with all that we clean out of our container gardens and vegetable and flower beds. A good rule of thumb is that if it comes from the soil, it should return to the soil. There are a few exceptions, however, such as diseased plants, poison ivy or weeds that have gone to seed.

Old flowers, grass clippings, leaves, twigs and woody yard wastes of all kind make wonderful additions to the backyard compost pile, and all will turn into wonderful dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling organic matter by the time next spring rolls around. I have used all the grass clippings from the Agricultural and Natural Resources Center lawn on the Old Harrisburg Road along with leaves saved from last fall to make good chemical-free compost to be used on the Ag Centerís planting beds.

Compost piles work quickly if the two most 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.

By using compost, we return organic matter to the soil in a usable form. Organic matter in the soil improves plant growth by helping to break heavy clay soils into a better texture, by adding water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils, and by adding essential nutrients to any soil.

Compost training provides an opportunity to understand how to make compost and what to do with it. Composting is the most practical and convenient way to handle household and garden wastes. It can be easier and cheaper than bagging these wastes and putting them out for the trash. Compost can be used to enrich the flower and vegetable garden, to improve the soil around trees and shrubs and as a soil amendment for houseplants and planter boxes. Chipped woody wastes that are not completely composted make excellent mulch or path material.

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