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From Garbage to Gold

What can you compost?

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When bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects break down organic material in the presence of oxygen, the result is compost. Also known as black gold, compost is the perfect ingredient for any soil. It lightens heavy clay and helps absorb moisture in even the sandiest of soils.

compost mulch

What is rich, moist, dark-brown with a sweet earthy aroma, and every gardener’s dream? If you’re thinking brownies, think again. The most valuable fertilizer for any garden is home-made compost.

When bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects break down organic material in the presence of oxygen, the result is compost. Also known as black gold, compost is the perfect ingredient for any soil. It lightens heavy clay and helps absorb moisture in even the sandiest of soils. Compost costs almost nothing to make and can even be made indoors if limited outside space is available.

If You Build It…

What can go into a compost pile? Plenty! Almost anything organic is suitable for the compost pile and can be added as brown or green material (see sidebar). Brown material contains carbon and breaks down slowly. Green material contains nitrogen and breaks down quickly. Optimally, you want the ratio of brown to green to be about 25:1. The easiest way to achieve this is to layer green materials sandwiched between larger layers of brown.

To help the process along, gardeners can ensure the pile is kept reasonably moist and aerated. If the plant material is allowed to dry out, decomposition will slow down. If the pile gets too wet, a different set of microorganisms takes over decomposition, and the compost loses some of its nutritional value. The best way to prevent this from happening is to regularly turn the compost pile.

Gardeners who have the space, often opt to build two to three bins into which they can turn the pile. However, if space is limited in the garden, compost-turning gadgets or a tumble composter can be used to bring material from the bottom of the pile to the top with minimal effort.

Common Compost Ingredients

IngredientBrown or GreenNotes
newspaperbrownpre-shred, avoid use of glossy, coated paper
cardboardbrown-
leavesbrownavoid use of black walnut
hay or strawbrownavoid use of hay with seed heads
sawdustbrownavoid overuse, as carbon content is extremely high
grass clippingsgreentends to clump, so keep pile well turned
kitchen scrapsgreenvoid dairy, fats, or meat
seaweed greengreataddition of micronutrients
coffee groundsgreencollect them at your local caf?TD>
garden wastegreenavoid using diseased plants, perennial weeds, or weeds that have gone to seed

Gardeners who don’t have the space for a compost pile need not worry. Many cities and municipalities offer worm bins at subsidized rates. The bins can be kept in unheated garages or on sheltered balconies. About the size of a large plastic tote, worm bins will come with bedding material (usually straw or shredded paper) and a pound of red wiggler worms. All you need to add are your kitchen scraps and shredded newspaper&and within a few months, your garbage will be gold.

Vancouver’s City Farmer site lists suppliers of worms and worm bins across North America: www.cityfarmer.org/wormsupl79.html

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