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Composting is natures way of recycling

By Pam Ervin
Master Gardener Volunteer
Composting is a continual cycle of life, death and rebirth that has been going on since the beginning of time.
It is nature’s way of recycling organic matter and the process can be found in lawns, gardens, fields and forests.
Organic gardeners use this decaying organic matter or compost to feed their soil. As this matter decays, nutrients are changed to a form that plants can absorb. The finished product is a rich, dark, crumbly substance called humus.
It is rich in nitrogen and also makes phosphorus and potassium available for plant use.
Nutrients are gradually released into the soil. Humus creates large pore spaces in our heavy clay soil found in this region. This helps with drainage and allows nutrients and oxygen to channel down to the root zone where needed. In sandy soil, humus slows drainage by holding moisture. Humus encourages earthworms and microorganisms, which both add to the fertility of the soil.
Compost heaps or bins help speed the process of decomposition. They should be roughly 4 feet high and 4-5 feet in diameter to help hold the heat and moisture in place.
Four basic elements are needed to make compost: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water.
– Carbon can be added with dead leaves, straw, hay, shredded black and white paper, wood ashes or sawdust. Items should be shredded to speed up decomposition.
– Nitrogen sources can include fresh grass clipping, green plant debris, cow, chicken or horse manure, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves and uncooked fruits and vegetables.
Don’t use meat, grease, bones, cooked foods, dairy products or pet manure.
– Oxygen helps as microorganisms use the carbon for energy and nitrogen for growth. As the core heats up, it needs oxygen to continue to burn. This is accomplished by turning the pile. The more you turn, the faster the decomposition.
– Water is the final key ingredient. The compost pile should have 50 percent moisture. When squeezed, it should form a ball, but water shouldn’t squeeze out.
Start with a layer of brush, which will allow some airflow.
Add a 6-inch layer of leaves or vegetable matter, followed by a 2-inch layer of manure or other green manure. Next, add a thin layer of topsoil. Dampen layers and repeat.
Compost can be turned every 2-3 weeks or every three days if you want to speed things up.
Two compost heaps hold my leaves over the winter and an 18-bushel compost tumbler makes dark, rich humus in 14 days.
Weather permitting, Master Gardener Volunteers will be hosting a compost demonstration at the West End Horticultural Demonstration Garden near the railroad tracks on Brenner Avenue on Friday, June 7, at 10 a.m.
Volunteers will be demonstrating how to make compost using a three-bin container as well as a compost tumbler.
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Pam Ervin is a Master Gardener volunteer with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Salisbury.
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For more information, visit these Web sites: www.rowanhorticulture.com or www. rowanmastergardener. com.

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