Composting is both an earth-friendly method for disposing of certain yard and household waste products and a way to create rich organic material for gardening that retains nutrients and water crucial to healthy plant growth. Composting carries out part of the pervasive life cycle of growth and decay, converting the carbon from plant matter into energy for nurturing new growth. As such, composting done correctly represents the ultimate recycling process, facilitating renewal and reuse rather than waste. (See References 1)
Yard Waste for Bulk
Fallen leaves, grass clippings and leafy plant trimmings typically form the bulk in a backyard composting barrel. Because air pockets within the compost promote the breakdown of organic materials, grass clippings must be mixed with leaves or wood chips to prevent them from compacting and reducing air flow through the compost. For the most healthful compost, avoid adding plant materials that you have recently treated with chemical pesticides or weed-killers. (see References 2).
Kitchen Waste for Energy
When it comes to compost, bacteria are welcome guests. By adding nutrient-rich kitchen waste to your compost barrel, you can feed those bacteria, which are essential to the breakdown of materials into rich, organic mulch. Fruit and vegetable waste, including peels and trimmings, provides energy for your compost. Egg shells and coffee grounds are also good additions. Energizing additions from the barnyard include cattle, horse or chicken manure, but to eliminate the risk of pathogens from these wastes ending up on your garden vegetables, do not eat any vegetables within 60 days of applying compost. Avoid putting meat, fats and feces from dogs, cats and pigs into your composting barrel. (See References 1)
Just like green plants, bacteria need a moist environment. Ideally, the additions you make to the compost barrel, plus rain water, will keep your compost damp, but during dry or hot spells you should add water. Every few days when you turn the barrel to mix the contents, check the mixture for moistness and add water if it is dry, but not to the point that it is dripping wet.
If your compost is a good mixture of bulking and energy-producing materials, you should not need to add nutrients. However, if your barrel contains primarily yard waste for bulk, you can add such organic fertilizers as blood or bone meal dissolved in water for more energy. To add nitrogen, an important compost nutrient, materials such as cotton seed meal, livestock manure and lake plants are good choices.
I have an MFA degree in Creative Writing and am a published poet who has received several poetry awards. I have established a reputation as an environmental activist, both through the group I co-founded -- see alternativeone.org -- and through a series of op-ed pieces in Montana newspapers. I have written extensively on alternative energy, recycling and endangered species.