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Composting turns yard waste, food scraps into beneficial soil

Posted April 12, 2009
Updated April 13, 2009

— The City of Raleigh has sold out of composting bins. However, city officials said you don’t need one to start a compost pile. Any kind of container, or a free-standing pile of compost, will work.

“Composting is working with Mother Nature to recycle your yard waste and food scraps into beneficial soil,” said Bianca Howard, the city’s solid waste services education specialist.

Composting turns waste into beneficial soil Composting turns waste into beneficial soil

Compost piles can contain things such as trimmings, fruits, vegetables and paper products. Meat, bones, dairy products, whole eggs, fatty foods, treated wood, pet or human waste and diseased plants should not be composted.

Howard suggests adding water and stirring the pile regularly. The microbes in the compost need the moisture and air to break down the scraps.

"If you do it when you're adding food scraps, you don't even have to think about it. Add food, add water and poke around a little bit,” she said.

If the compost bin is on the ground, it will naturally attract earthworms.

"These are the creatures that are really doing the composting!” Howard said. “You know the compost is finished when you can't recognize the pieces that went into it. It has an earthy smell to it. It's dark brown. It's starting to look more like soil.”

That process can take about three or four months. The compost can be added to soil to give plants a natural boost.

“You can use compost in so many ways. You can dig it into the ground when you're planting a new vegetable garden this summer. You can even take a small amount and mix it with regular soil or potting soil when you're planting container gardens,” Howard said.

The City of Raleigh's Web site offered some of the following tips:

Compost Pile Layers from Bottom to Top

1) Bed of branches/large sticks/wooden pallet
2) Brown/carbon matter - dried leaves, pine straw
3) Green/nitrogen matter - grass, food scraps, manure
4) Soil
5) Brown/carbon matter - dried leaves, pine straw
6) Green/nitrogen matter - grass, food scraps, manure
7) Soil
8) Brown/carbon matter - dried leaves, pine straw
9) Green/nitrogen matter - grass, food scraps, manure
10_. Layer of leaves

Trouble Shooting

  • Bad odor: the pile probably is not getting enough air, or has too much moisture. Turn the pile to introduce oxygen. Mix in dry materials to absorb moisture.
  • Ammonia odor: there is an overabundance of green materials (too much nitrogen). Mix in brown material (carbon) to balance the nitrogen.
  • Pile is damp and warm in the middle, but nowhere else: the pile is probably to small. Collect more material and introduce it into the pile.
  • Pile is damp and sweet-smelling but produces no heat: the pile is probably not getting enough nitrogen. Mix in a nitrogen source, such as fruit and vegetable remains, fresh manure, blood meal or grass clippings.
  • Pile is attracting pests or flies: the food remains are probably not being buried deep enough. Bury food remains about 8-12 inches deep. Also, avoid putting meat scraps or fatty food in the pile.

Paper products such as newspaper, paper plates, paper napkins, paper towels and tubes, paper coffee filters and tea bags are very high in carbon (brown material) but should be moistened, torn or shredded and added in small quantities at a time.


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  • Bendal1 Apr 13, 2009

    There are some items that shouldn't go into a compost, even if they're vegetable matter. Citrus fruit rinds, for example, don't decompose quickly if at all. Old potatoes or even the skins are a bad idea unless cooked, because they'll take root instead of decomposing. Dry brown leaves will decompose very slowly so lots of them should be avoided. Meat shouldn't be added because it rots and will attract flies/vermin/scavengers.

    Items that can be added into a compost:

    Rotten twigs/bark/wood from old trees
    Green leaves
    Grass clippings (even if they've got dried leaves in them)
    Kitchen waste (no meat though)
    I've added small amounts of cardboard and unbleached paper
    Garden plants after the growing season is over

    This year I got enough soil from my compost heap to fill a new 10'x8' planting bed about a foot deep, plus some to add to my existing veggie bed and pot 4 tomato plants, with some left over.

  • ohmygosh Apr 13, 2009

    Good to do.

    However, generating significant amounts of compost requires lots more source material than you can generate from the kitchen scraps.
    We need a truck load of compost yearly. The kitchen route generates a small wheel barrel full.

  • Lyle Apr 13, 2009

    Awesome tips from the first 2 posters. I also compost enthusiastically. One thing the article didn't mention is that you should really let your compost go all the way, otherwise you will add too much "hot" compost to existing plants, so let it turn to real soil. My vegetable garden last year really rocked with the natural stuff. Use liquid fish emulsion too to make your veggies go nuts.

  • cakeladyrn Apr 13, 2009

    The local Coffeehouse saves their coffee grounds for me. It is a natural source of nitrogen and it will not burn the plants. It is a natural bug replenent for some plants.

  • Bendal1 Apr 13, 2009

    I go around my neighborhood and ask everyone if I can have their bags of grass clippings from their well-fertilized yards. All that nice healthy grass turns into nice rich soil in my compost heap, which I use to make vegetable beds out of.