Compassion for Compost

A consumer might not equate "breaking down" with financial savings. However, starting a compost pile at home allows you to tap the natural cycle of decomposition for benefits that include the reduced need — and cost — for water, pesticides, and fertilizers in home gardens.

"Composting is, by definition, managed decomposition. Decomposition happens anyway, but we can manage it for our purposes," says Adam Michaelides of the Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension. He advises learning a system that is appropriate for individual needs determined by where and how you live. It's relatively simple and cheap to begin. The biggest investment is time: It takes six months to a year for compost to be ready for use.

One method favored by Michaelides is to use welded wire mesh bound in an upright cylinder. Layer sticks at the bottom to create space for drainage and airflow, essential for good, stench-free compost. Begin your composting layers with "browns" — any carbon-rich, porous material like dried leaves or woodchips. Then throw in your "greens" — plant material, food scraps (no meat, bones, dairy, or oils), even manure. Add another layer of browns. The ratio of browns to greens should ideally be about 2:1 or 3:1.

A wealth of information is available about good composting practices. The CCE of Tompkins County has a terrific fact sheet available at its website, which you can find at ccetompkins.org by clicking on "compost." You can also check out howtocompost.org. For additional information, go to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation
(dec.ny.gov) and the Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov).


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Q & A
Peter Wilcoxen
by Khris Dodson
Guidebook
Compassion for Compost
by Stephen Shoemaker
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