In spite of the sighs of many homeowners, or the teenagers who live with them, the falling of autumn leaves presents more than an undesirable means to build up biceps. The leaves also deliver a key ingredient for creating compost.
"Compost is actually made of two parts brown material and one part green material," said Charles Phillips, the agriculture and natural resources agent for the Columbia County Extension Services.
The brown material can be anything like leaves, wheat straw or hay, and the green commonly comes from kitchen waste or grass clippings.
The brown materials are higher in carbon but low in nitrogen, while the green materials are the opposite. The combination of these two elements is essential to producing compost.
According to Phillips, the ideal place to store the materials is in "a container made from wire that's about 5 feet across and 5 feet tall," he said.
A large container is optimal, because, "bigger piles build up more heat and generate compost faster," he said.
With materials consistently added to the pile, gardeners will quickly notice a change in the materials because of decomposition.
"The materials will begin to seep down in the first two to three weeks," Phillips said.
Watching the movement of a compost pile is essential to knowing when to turn its contents.
"When it stops moving, then you want to take a pitch fork and toss it around," Phillips said. Doing this loosens the oxygen, "and it's ideal to do this every two to three weeks."
Air circulation is important, because most of the organisms that foster decomposition in a compost pile need air to survive.
Another key to creating a successful compost pile is keeping it moist.
"You don't want it excessively wet, but not completely dry, because fungi will not grow when it's dry," Phillips said.
In time, the investment of collecting materials and turning the piles will yield material that will boost soil fertility and stimulate healthy root development for plants.
"In about seven to eight months, you'll have good compost that can be used in the garden or even (on) houseplants," Phillips said.
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