Composting tips for success

Fall is the classic season for composting. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Setting up a bin to hold your compost helps speed the process along and makes the pile less appealing to critters.

The size of the bin is important. The ideal size is 3 feet on each side, resulting in a pile tall and deep enough to build up heat in its center. A pile on the ground will keep spreading out and cooling off.

The size of the materials added to the bin makes a difference, too. The smaller the particle size, the more surface area for microbes to reach. The smaller the particle size, the faster the breakdown.

Just like most things in life, variety is a good thing in your compost pile. If you have a lot of tough garden plant stems, mix in grass clippings or food scraps. If you mostly have food scraps, mix in some dry leaves. A variety of materials will provide a better balance of elements the microbes need, and will provide a source of moisture and air to the mix. Microbes need food, water and air to thrive.

Your kitchen generates a lot of materials for the compost bin. Generally, anything that was once a plant can be composted including vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves and tomato sauce. Go easy with bread and pasta scraps, a little is okay.

But not everything should go in your home compost bin. Weeds with aggressive root systems such as quackgrass and ground ivy are difficult to kill in a compost pile.

Protein sources do not decompose well and attract critters. Avoid adding any meat scraps, oil, and any dairy products including milk, yogurt and cheese. Egg shells are fine but not egg yolks.

Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.

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