When you pile all your organic waste together and give it the right conditions, bacteria, worms and microorganisms quickly break the ingredients down to nutrients that enrich and support health, living soil. Compost is what's left when yard debris, kitchen scraps and other organic materials have completely broken down and the nutrients are in a chemical form that can be absorbed by plant roots. Rich, dark and crumbly, compost is the way to amend Colorado's heavy clay soils. Clay soil does not drain well and too much water can suffocate plant roots. Adding compost will help loosen the soil and create pore space for roots, water, oxygen, microbes and earthworms.
Composting is inexpensive, easy to learn and if you eat fruits and vegetables you already have some of the main ingredients. The best way to learn is to get started. The right amount of moisture and mix of materials is something that comes with a little practice. Organic material will always break down, it's just a matter of time. With a compost pile, your goal is to speed up the process the Mother Nature has perfected.
Aim for a ratio of 50/50 nitrogen/carbon. That means for every pound of kitchen scraps, add a pound of newspaper, dried leaves or grass. Brown materials take longer to break down so if your compost is too wet, add brown material. If you don't have a lot of green material, you'll probably need to add moisture to your compost.
Decomposition occurs rapidly between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. Microbes generate their own heat and insulation keeps that heat in. Position your compost in full sun and turn it with a pitchfork to keep the pile aerated. Some people turn their pile very often, others never turn it at all.
If you're limited on space, a compost tumbler or worm bin is the solution. They make smaller batches of compost and are easy to manage. And keeping a worm bin in the kitchen is a great conversation piece for visitors!
What Can Be Composted
Anything organic can be composted. Paper towels, tea bags, potato peels, expired fruits and veggies, watermelon rinds, oatmeal, coffee grounds, leaves, grass, etc.
Keep meat, dairy and oils out of your compost pile because they are high in fat and will attract animals. Keep weed seeds and pesticide or herbicide treated plants out of compost that will be used for vegetable gardens.
Composting is an alternative to chemical fertilizers that kill the microbes and bacteria that live in the soil. The EPA estimates that 23 percent of the U.S. waste stream is yard trimmings and food waste. Throwing all this material in rapidly filling landfills is wasteful when it can be used to build soil tilth in your landscape. You contribute less to the waste cycle AND improve your soil at the same time.