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UGA Extension notes: Turn your trash into treasure by composting
Richard Evans
Richard Evans is Extension agent for Bryan County. - photo by File photo

One of the more helpful characteristics of much of our soil on the coast is how well is drains. Most of our substrate is a sandy loam that filters moisture quickly and keeps areas from pooling with too much excess water. However, the catch is that moisture and nutrients also seep out quickly and can lead to drought conditions is rainfall is sparse.

These are some things we can do to help though. Your lawn clippings as well as tree and shrub trimmings can easily be recycled or composted to produce a wonderful source of organic matter that you can add to the soil in your flower beds, vegetable gardens and landscape plantings. And the best part is that it is absolutely free.

Composting is a simple, yet practical and convenient way of recycling lawn and landscape debris. This compost can be used in raised bed gardens for a free nutrient substrate or spread in areas of your lawn where the grass isn’t growing well by mixing it with existing soil. There are many other ways to use compost, really anywhere quality soil is needed.

As leaves are beginning to drop and summer garden and flower crops are beginning to fade now, local gardeners and landscapers often wonder can these be used for composting.

The answer is yes and here are some helpful Q& As to consider when starting a compost pile of your own.

What is compost? Compost is the rich, dark humus or final product that results from the natural decomposition of plants and/or plant products under controlled conditions.

What are the best materials for composting?

Almost any organic material can be used for composting, such as leaves, grass clippings, twigs, old annual or perennial flowers, spent vegetable plants, and even straw and sawdust. Avoid composting diseased or insect- infested plants, weeds with seeds, or invasive weeds like morning glory, honeysuckle or nutsedge.

Kitchen peelings and coffee grounds can also be composted, but do avoid adding too many food scraps (unless you bury them deep in the pile) because they may attract animals. What about compost odors? Compost piles will not present an odor problem if they have good ventilation. Turning the pile monthly will assure good aeration which not only eliminates odors, but hastens decay. Odor-causing bacteria are killed by heat within the pile. If animal manures are added to the pile, some initial odor can be expected but it will soon dissipate as the pile matures.

Where should I locate my compost pile? Locate the compost pile in an out-of-the-way place in your yard, in full sun, if possible and on a well-drained site.

Hopefully this won’t be hard to find in your yard.

How big can I make my compost pile? A good size would be 3 feet X 3 feet X 3 feet. Large piles break down faster than smaller piles, but large piles are also more difficult to manage. How do I contain the compost? Decomposition works best if some type of structure is used to hold the compost materials. Most any type of structure can be used, including welded wire, fencing, wood pallets or concrete blocks. It is important to leave open spaces in the sides to allow for good air circulation through the pile; and be sure to leave the bottom open to the ground for proper drainage. How do I construct and care for the pile? For best decomposition, it’s best to mix a variety of materials in the pile. Most often piles are layered with whatever organic matter is available at a given time, such as grass clippings in the summer, leaves in the fall and so on.

Do keep in mind that the smaller the pieces of organic matter, the faster it will decompose. Once a layer of organic material is added, if possible, add a little garden soil or animal manure. This adds fungi, bacteria, insects and worms to the pile and helps speed up the decomposition process. Keep the pile moist , but not soggy or too wet. To speed up the decomposition process and prevent odors, turn the pile at least once a month using a shovel or spading fork.

When is the compost ready to use? Compost is ready to use when it looks like like crumbly earth and you can no longer recognize the original plant materials. Each time you mix the pile, some readyto- use compost should be available. Compost added to the soil before planting vegetables, shrubs, flowers, trees and even a lawn area will improve soil structure and drainage and it also helps hold nutrients and water for the plants to use.

Compost releases a small amount of plant nutrients, but it won’t completely substitute for fertilizer. It should be utilized primarily as a soil-building material instead of a fertilizer. In addition, it can be used as a mulch on the soil surface or as a potting soil for container plants.

For more information on composting, call your Extension office or send us an email at (Liberty County) or (Bryan County). Check out Circular 816 online as well (just type circular UGA Circular 816). Feel free to stop by anytime, we’re still open for business!

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