Composting and Yard Care
Each year, nearly four million tons of yard trimmings in the form of leaves, grass, tree limbs, weeds and other organic debris are thrown away in Texas. That amounts to almost 20 percent of all trash in municipal landfills.
In addition, Texans spend more than $300 million each year disposing of yard trimmings, and billions in total yard care costs, including water, fertilizer, and chemicals to combat harmful insects and plant diseases. Costly synthetic fertilizers and pesticides allow chemicals to wash into lakes, streams, and underground water.
Composting is a simple biological process that breaks down leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, brush, and food scraps into a dark, crumbly, nutrient-rich, organic product. It's nature's way of recycling organic matter and returning it to the earth so that it may be used again.
You should however avoid composting meat, dairy products, cooking oil and grease.
Why compost? Benefits of Composting
- Retains moisture, helps reduce impacts of drought
- Helps loosen heavy clay soils
- Increases living organisms in the soil
- Adds nutrients and conditions the soil
THe components of a Compost Pile
- Use nitrogen (green material) and carbon (brown material)
- Reaches temperatures between 130-160 degrees
Green Materials (Nitrogen)
- Cottonseed meal
- Food scraps
- Coffee grounds
Brown Materials (Carbon)
- Brown leaves
- Dry hay/straw
- Dry wood chips
Creating Compost Piles
A compost pile may be started directly on the ground using a container or structure, which will save space, hasten decomposition and keep the yard looking neat.
- Select a level area near a water source that receives equal amounts of sunlight and shade during the day.
- Apply a 3- to 6-inch layer of chopped brush, branches, dead leaves, straw and twigs to allow air circulation around the base of the heap.
- Add 6 inches of grass clippings, manure and sawdust. Materials should be kept damp, but not wet and soggy. Rabbit pellets, cow or horse manure only.
- Add water until moist.
- Add dried molasses for ants.
- Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until the pile is sufficient in height. The ideal pile is 4- to 5-feet wide and high.
- Every couple of weeks, turn the pile and water it until damp. Turning the pile more often makes compost faster. With each turning, move dry materials from the edges into the middle of the new pile, and add water as needed.
Indications of a Finished Compost Pile
Compost is ready when:
- It is crumbly and not identifiable as grass, leaves, etc.
- It looks like dark soil.
- It no longer heats up after it is turned or wetted.
- It smells earthy, not sour, putrid or like ammonia.
A properly made heap will reach temperatures up to 160º F in several days. During this time, there will be settlement in the pile. This is a good sign that the compost pile is working properly.
The composting process may last from a few weeks to months, depending upon the types of materials used, water requirements, and how often the pile is turned. Apply the finished product to gardens or around trees and shrubs by turning the soil and applying 1- to 3-inch layers of compost, working it in well.
- Not heating - could be the following:
- Too wet - add more leaves
- Too dry - add water
- Too much grass - add more leaves
- Too much leaves - add more grass
- Smelly - anaerobic
- Turn to get oxygen to the pile
- Pile is not heating up
- May be too small, increase the volume
- Fire Ants
- Continue adding dried molasses
- Oak leaves take longer to compost
- Smaller particle size composts faster
- Once decomposition starts, the pile should have an earthy smell
- Remember to add dried molasses each time you turn the pile
- Watch the amount of water you add in making and turning the pile
- Set compost bin where water does not puddle when it rains, preferably in a shaded spot
- Do not set next to the house, wood fence or tree
- If adding kitchen scraps, bury at least 10 inches