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Composting is a great alternative for reducing yard waste

Posted: May 4, 2014 - 12:13am

Beginning May 1 and ending Sept. 30, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division’s open burning ban will be in effect for Columbia County.

The open burning ban prohibits residents and businesses from burning yard and land-clearing debris. Landscape waste, such as leaves, grass clippings and trimmings account for up to 20 percent of the wastes being placed in landfill. Instead of adding to the “pile”, some homeowners find it convenient and economical to compost these materials in their own backyards. Finished compost can be used as mulch or as a soil amendment.

Soils can often be improved and made more productive by simply mixing organic matter with them. The most popular source of organic matter for soil improvement is the commercially available well-rotted livestock manure. Homeowners should also be aware of cheaper and more readily available sources of organic matter. They include plant materials such as grass clippings, scraps of vegetable materials, small twigs, and fall leaves. To become useable soil amendments, these materials should be decomposed by bacteria and fungi. This process is called composting.

Composting has several benefits for the homeowner as well as the soil. Bans on outdoor burning and laws which limit dumping of leaves and grass clippings into landfills make composting and mulching an attractive alternative. Some cities and neighborhoods provide composting areas as a means of disposing of grass clippings and leaves. However, many homeowners find it more convenient and economical to compost these materials in their own backyards.

Constructing a compost pile is easy, but there are a few rules to follow. The compost may be prepared in a bin, purchased or built, or on the ground as a pile. Choosing the proper location for the compost is important. The pile should be located in an area that is protected from wind and receives partial sunlight. The compost pile should be prepared in layers that are not compacted when added. The first layer is comprised of coarser materials, like twigs or wood chips. Coarser materials decompose faster in the bottom layer.

Moisten all layers as they are put in the pile. The layers should not be saturated. Moisture is an important part of a healthy compost pile. Moisture encourages growth of bacteria and fungi that will decompose the plant materials. A compost pile may begin to smell foul if there is too much water added. Frequent turning of the pile and adding more woody materials are ways to decrease excess moisture.

After the coarse layer, organic wastes, such as leaves, grass, and plant trimmings are put down in a layer of eight to ten inches deep. These materials can be shredded or chipped. The next layer is a one-inch layer of soil or completed compost. Adding soil or completed compost guarantees the presence of the necessary bacteria and fungi for decomposition. Typically, organic yard wastes such as grass clippings or leaves contain enough microorganisms on the surface to allow decomposition, but the addition of soil or completed compost ensures their presence. Research shows that there is no advantage to purchasing a commercially available compost starter to add these microbes. The microbes in the soil and on organic materials are just as efficient in decomposing the waste.

After the soil layer, a nitrogen source should be added. Decomposing microbes require nitrogen, and a lack of nitrogen will decrease the rate of decomposition in the compost pile. An excellent source of nitrogen is livestock manure. An appropriate amount of livestock manure for the compost layer is two to three inches. If livestock manure is not available, a nitrogen source such as 10-10-10 fertilizer can be applied at one cup per 25 square feet. Do not use fertilizer that contains an herbicide or pesticide.

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