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Archive for Thursday, November 22, 2007

Composting is the original recycling

November 22, 2007

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While raking leaves last weekend, I started thinking about the wonderful attributes of compost. Mostly, I was thinking about recent studies from Cornell and Ohio State universities that show increased disease resistance in plants grown in soils with high organic matter. Gardeners also know that compost, or decomposed organic matter, tilled into the soil before planting improves the workability and quality of the soil. Compost mixed with water works as a slow-release fertilizer.

If you are making excuses for not composting your yard, garden, fruit and vegetable wastes, you are missing out on wonderful resource. Take advantage of the fallen leaves this autumn to start your own compost pile or contribute to a community yard waste collection.

Excuse No. 1: I don't have the space to compost.

Small compost bins are available that are the same size as most kitchen trash cans. Kitchen scraps and yard waste can be put inside where they will be completely contained. You could keep the bin on your porch or patio. If you want to use a space in your yard, a 5-foot-by-5-foot area is sufficient.

Excuse No. 2: My neighbors won't like the smell.

A contained compost bin also will contain odors. Open bins usually only release their fragrance when the compost is turned, and the smell dissipates in a few hours.

Excuse No. 3: I don't have time.

Throwing your kitchen scraps into the compost bin takes the same amount of time as throwing them into a trash can. When raking leaves or working in the yard, just toss the leaves and plant material into the bin instead of bagging them or putting them in the trash can. If you choose to turn your compost, the amount of time the task takes will depend on the type of container and amount of debris.

Excuse No. 4: Compost bins are too expensive.

Instead of purchasing a commercial compost bin, make your own container out of woven wire, scrap lumber, or cement blocks or bricks. You also can simply pile the yard waste loosely in an outdoor space or in a shallow pit.

Excuse No. 5: I don't produce enough compostable waste.

Researchers estimate that 20 to 30 percent of solid waste that goes to landfills is compostable.

Excuse No. 6: I don't have any use for compost.

Till into the soil before planting flower and vegetable gardens or new lawns. Top-dress existing lawns. Use compost in place of mulch to reduce soil moisture fluctuations and suppress weed growth. Mix compost in equal parts with soil to use as a potting mix for your houseplants or container plantings. You can even mix compost with water and use it as a soluble fertilizer when planting vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs.

If you have sat in line at a compost giveaway in Lawrence, you also know that you can find people who are willing to take it off your hands if necessary.

To get started composting, purchase a container, build a containment area, or simply designate an area in your yard. If you purchase a commercial container, follow the instructions that come with it for making your own compost. If you make your own container or build the pile on the ground, simply add organic matter, mixing different types. I have heard many recipes for mixing green waste (kitchen scraps, green plant materials) with brown waste (fallen leaves, dead plant material), but there is not a perfect formula.

For more information about composting, call the Douglas County Extension Office at 843-7058 and request a copy of the KSU Horticulture Report "Making and Using Compost at Home." You can also access this publication at www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/hort2 .

The city of Lawrence sells compost bins at a reduced price to Lawrence residents and accepts yard waste at curbside on Mondays. Call 832-3030 for more information about their services.

Be a recycler! You'll contribute less to the landfill, use less trash bags and get a top-notch product for your yard and garden. Your plants will require less fertilizer and be healthier. The leaves on the ground right now are the perfect start for your own pile. Once you start using the compost, you will understand why gardeners call it "black gold."

Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at (785)843-7058 or <a href="mailto:smithjen@ksu.edu">smithjen@ksu.edu</a>.

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