Fall is perfect time to begin composting

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By Susan Trepagnier, Guest Columnist

Susan Trepagnier is executive director of Keep Jackson County Beautiful.

This week on Facebook a friend said she had heard if you catch a falling leaf on the first day of fall, you would protect yourself from colds during the coming winter. That reminded me Friday, Sept. 23, is the first day of fall and the leaves are falling. It’s time to rake those piles, or not. The aroma of burning leaves and debris will soon permeate the air. We have piles of limbs my husband has picked up all summer. He can barely contain his anticipation of the first day of October and the OK to burn.

Burning the piles of limbs I can live with, well maybe, but it seems a shame to burn leaves that scatter upon our ground. Truth is, I live in the middle of the woods and the leaves protect bare earth and little critters that isn’t covered with well manicured Zoysia, Fescue or just plain old weeds. Many, like me, who live in the country don’t lay sod. In 28 years my yard has seen very little chemical anything applied and the birds tummies are not fatter from scattered grass seed, but from the flower seeds that grow naturally in my yard and those bird feeders that adorn my tree limbs. Our lawnmower runs over the yard every couple weeks cutting “green weeds.”

For those who have grass and leaves to stuff into lawn bags, sending them off for mulching by the county or city, why not start a compost pile? It’s simple and even the pickiest lawn owner can find a corner that isn’t being used in their back yard! You’ll need a compost bin; you’ll find no tech to high tech available at any home fix-it store or add to the adventure and build one. There are plenty plans on the Internet or go no tech and make a pile of leaves for little ones to jump in throughout the fall and then decompose for the flower beds all winter. Remember though if you don’t choose a bin, you’ll let all those wonderful vegetable trimmings go to waste. Loose, they’ll attract those pesky critters such as mice, rabbits and raccoons.

The most compact way to compost is in five-gallon buckets with sealable lids inside the home or on the deck. Focus on kitchen scraps, dry material (soil, sawdust, peat moss and straw). Chop kitchen scraps and mix an equal amount of dry material at least once a week using a trowel or small spade. If too wet, add dry material. Stir thoroughly each time you add materials. When the bucket is half full, let stand 1 to 3 months, mixing it every week or two. Use finished compost in garden or planters as it is produced.

The basic compost recipe allows bugs, fungi, bacteria and worms in your yard or worm box to do most of the composting for you. Chop your compostables including grass clippings, leaves, shrub prunings, flower seeds, sawdust, hair, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and tea bags, egg shells and small amounts of uncoated paper. The more you chop, the faster the decomposition process takes place.

Then mix two-thirds dry brown material (leaves, straw, shredded wood) with one-third moist, green materials for a balance of nutrients, air and water. Add water as you build your pile and maintain its moisture level so your pile is as damp as a wrung out sponge. Proper moisture is essential for organisms to break down organic materials into compost.

The fastest way to compost is to build a “hot” heap, hoop or bin which requires frequent turning of the pile to get plenty of oxygen to the organisms that are hard at work, breaking down the materials and creating heat. You’ll need yard trimmings, fruit and vegetable trimmings and water as needed. Layer and mix fresh green with dry brown materials alternately until you have at least a cubic yard (3-foot x 3-foot x 3-foot) pile.

Keep pile as moist as that wrung-out sponge. Cover the pile with a sheet of plastic, a piece of carpet or a 1-inch layer of soil. Then turn the pile one to three times a week to give it the air it needs for fast composting. Compost is ready to use when the materials are reduced to a dark, rich humus. Sift and use undecomposed material to start a new pile. The compost should be ready in 1 to 3 months.

Susan Trepagnier is executive director of Keep Jackson County Beautiful. The KJCB board will sponsor an Oct. 8 Fall into Recycling event from 8 a.m. to noon at the Jackson County Transfer Station/Landfill at 100 Landfill Drive in Jefferson. Call KJCB at 706-708-7198.