What are you doing with your lawn clippings? Are they going in the Green Can or making a moldering pile? What happens to your leftover vegetable scraps from fixing dinner?
It might be the time to set up a compost pile.
Some basic facts:
1. Compost does not smell bad. When it is working correctly, it smells like a walk in a conifer forest.
2. Compost is not unsightly nor does it need to be hidden away behind a shed.
3. A steaming pile of lawn clippings all slimy and moldy is not compost, nor is a pile of pruning and odds and ends of old sticks.
4. Compost is not an exact science and difficult to do.
5. Compost is not a fertilizer that will make your garden grow faster.
6. Compost takes at least six months to complete the process of breaking down the organic materials.
The most effective compost piles have to be in contact with the soil so the micro-organisms and red wiggler worms can activate the composting process. There is no need to buy worms or starter organisms.
The size of the pile is critical. A cubic yard is about right; 3-feet-by-3-feet-by-3-feet is large enough to create the heat to break down organic materials and small enough that all materials can be incorporated with minimum turning.
In North Central Washington, the compost pile has to be watered during the summer. Its texture should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. If it is too wet, you will drown your worms and other beneficial insects. If it is too dry, the microorganisms cannot utilize the organic material.
You do not need a container. Instead, consider these options:
- A pile on the ground works.
- You can build a cement block fence around it to hold it in place. (The micro-organisms will “eat” a wooden fence.)
- Hog wire does not work in NCW because the pile dries out.
- A commercial, black plastic bin is dandy and costs about $100.
- A tumbler is the poorest choice in NCW. The high summer temperatures dry out and “cook” the organisms that create the compost. It is difficult to have enough material at one time to fill the tumbler so it can work effectively.
In the fall, you can save leaves for next year’s compost pile.
This year, purchase straw. This dry material, usually brown, allows air to circulate. Composting is an aerobic process, and that is why air has to be available to all the organisms that are working to break down garden and kitchen waste.
Add no animal waste, no meat scraps, no fats — these materials break down by rotting, which is an anaerobic process, and can also attract vermin to your pile. Don’t add thorny things or weed seeds.
When the compost is black and crumbly and has no smell or bugs and no recognizable plant parts, it is ready to incorporate into the soil. Add no more than 10% by volume of compost to your soil. Compost increases the water-holding capacity of the soil. It also provides “loft” — air spaces for roots to move more easily through the soil. You can overdo a good thing by adding too much compost.
WSU Master Gardeners can give you more information. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit wwrld.us/cdmg or call 667-6540.