Compositing: With limits being placed on dumping leaves and grass, composting has become the logical alternative for disposing yard waste.
Requirements for Proper Decomposition
Aeration: A loose, well mixed pile of compost will reach high internal temperatures necessary to kill weed seeds and undesirable pathogens. With no oxygen, the compost pile will produce a foul smell and slow the process down.
Moisture: With either rainfall or the garden hose, moisten the pile. Do not over water, as a soggy pile will not decompose properly and will emit unwanted odors.
Particle Size: Use a chopper or shredder to reduce the materials to be composted into small pieces that will decompose quickly. Larger pieces, such as branches and large stems, will take much longer to develop a finished product.
Fertilizer: Phosphorus and potassium are usually adequately present in the soil and do not need to be added. Nitrogen must be added for the microbes that aid in decomposing of organic matter. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen and will aid in composting if mixed properly with other materials. However, clippings from lawns where herbicides have recently been applied should not be used, as well as pet and human waste, because of the potential to cause disease.
Preparing the Compost Pile: Composting should be done in layers placed 8 to 10 inches deep, with coarser material at the bottom. Water each layer until moist, but not soggy. To provide nitrogen for the microbial activity to begin, use one cup per 25 square feet for every layer of material. Next, place a one inch layer of garden soil or compost over the layer. Repeat the process until the bin is 3/4 full. Turn the pile when the internal temperature begins to cool. You know proper composting is taking place if you see steam rising from the pile on a cool morning. The process is complete when mixture no longer produces heat, or about two months for a well managed compost pile.
Strip Composting: Another method of composting is to bury the pile directly in the garden. Leave a strip unplanted for a year, and when waste becomes available, bury it in trenches within the strip. Space the trenches no more than one foot apart.
When burying sawdust, wood shavings, evergreen needles or other matter that is resistant to decay, it is necessary to add two to three ounces of complete fertilizer per 10 linear feet of trench. Strip composting requires more space, but less time, fuss and structural materials are needed than in heap composting.