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GARDENING: Compost tips

4 Steps to Successful Composting

1. Compost organic material only. Do not include animal products, dairy products, or man-made materials (like plastic or Styrofoam) in your composting heap. Leaves, hay, straw, wood chips, sawdust, grass clippings, shrub clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, pine needles, eggshells, paper, cardboard (non-laminated), garden weeds, and fruit and vegetable scraps all make excellent composting material. Do not include milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, bones, meat, animal carcasses, or hair in your composting pile. Alternate dry (brown) material with wet (green) material in six inch layers for the best results.

2. Smaller is better. Small composting material breaks down much more quickly than large material. Chop up your yard waste, put veggie scraps in the food processor, and run small branches through a wood chipper before composting. Whenever possible, reduce your compost to small particles to reduce your decomposition time.

3. Even heating cooks better compost. In order to evenly heat your compost pile, you need to turn the pile with a pitchfork (or a handle if using a closed-barrel type composting bin) every 10-14 days. Mix it up well and add straw to help achieve the best composting mix. This also adds air to the mixture- a vital part of producing good compost.  Water your pile well for best results. Cover your compost pile with straw to help raise the internal temperature of the compost pile and induce faster breakdown of the natural materials. Just remove the straw to turn the heap or water your compost.

4. Add worms. Worms are like natural gold-mines in the world of compost. Worm droppings, called castings. Are rich in material suitable for fertilizing garden plants. In fact, some greenhouse gardeners use worm boxes to produce worm castings for use directly in the greenhouse. The more worms you add, the better your compost will be. You can purchase red worms from a garden supply store, or you can dig your own the old-fashioned way in the backyard. A worm bin is a great composting tool too.

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