If you were to go into the woods and look under a pile of leaves, you would witness nature's compost pile. There's a top layer of leaves, pine needles and dead weeds. It is under this layer that the change begins.

First, you'll find a dark, moist and spongy layer and then a heavy, more uniform layer of rich-looking soil. You can obtain the same results in your back yard - and much faster! All you have to do is select a sunny, easily accessible location near your garden and a water source.

To keep your pile neat, build a 3-sided box with wire, wood or cinder blocks (3 x 3 or 4 x 4 is fine). Leave the bottom of the box open so the pile is accessible to worms. Now it's time to start cleaning the yard.

Add plant material in layers, alternating different plant materials. Grass clippings are great but tend to get very slimy. Leaves, when added in a thick layer tend to mat down. Hay or straw needs a lot of nitrogen to rot, so let it set to one side until it begins to turn gray and mold, then use it. When you trim your hedges or shrubs, use these clippings in your pile, but chop them up first by driving your lawn mower over them (the smaller the pieces the faster they rot). Pine needles rot slowly, so mix with grass clippings to speed up the process. Pine needles also are acidic and if you use a lot, add limestone to the layers. Sawdust is slow to rot if applied in thick layers, so sprinkle it between layers. Seaweed will speed up the process and rots quickly when mixed with difficult or slow-rotting plants. Seaweed contains much needed trace elements for your soil (boron, iodine, calcium, magnesium, sodium and others). Weeds from your garden and waste plant material such as carrot tops, comstocks, dead vines or fall cleanup are perfect for your compost pile.

A must is animal manure, such as cow, chicken or horse. If you can get fresh - even better! You can add compost maker which contains bacterial activators to speed up the process. Your garden center will have this product.

Keep the layers 2-3 inches thick. Mix when possible. Keep pile flat or slightly concave so water will collect when it rains. Keep it moist and hot to help it rot faster. The ideal temperature is 160 degrees. You'll notice steam rising from the pile and the pile will shrink. - now it's WORKING!

 

compost these:
  • annual weeds without seed heads
  • coffee filters
  • hedge trimmings
  • grass clippings
  • leaves
  • plant stalks
  • old potting soil
  • tea bags
  • twigs
  • vegetable scraps
Do not compost:
  • bread and grains
  • cooking oil
  • dairy products
  • dead animals
  • diseased plants
  • grease
  • invasive weeds such a quack grass
  • meat or fish parts
  • oily foods
  • pet feces
  • weeds with seed heads


  • General information on composting.
    Information on composting bins in Massachusetts
    Towns that are participating in Massachusetts compost bins distribution

    A reader, Karen Harder of Cape Porpoise, ME, wrote with this information for people that want a compost bin and don't live in Massachusetts or their town is not participating;

    She went to a website that she found in Organic Gardening magazine and found a bin from Covered Bridge Organic Inc. Reading about it, she wondered whether it is similar to the ones that the Mass. towns are selling. It is made from recycled plastic bottles and such, holds 30 cubic feet, and it's basically just an open-topped cylinder with optimally-sized and spaced air slots in the lower third or so of the cylinder. It stands 30 inches high and is adjustable to 2 different diameters. It comes from Ohio and can be purchased on-line for $40, including shipping and handling. The URL is www.cboinc.com

    Their web page includes several test comparisons that were made, and their bin comes out way on top of the others. Could you possibly take a look at it to see whether it seems comparable to the ones Mass. is making available. If it is, it certainly seems like a good alternative for those of us who don't have easy access to Mass. towns.

    This bin is similar to the one in Massachusetts except they don't have a top.


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