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General Information on Composting
How to Compost
Questions and Answers on How to Combat Problems

General Information on Composting

Compost is the end product of organic decomposition of yard waste (leaves, grass clippings, small tree and shrub trimmings, wood chips) and kitchen waste (coffee grounds, raw vegetable peelings, fruit skins and peelings). These materials decompose naturally with moisture and oxygen.

Composting is a practical and convenient way to transform yard and kitchen waste into a resource. Compost is a natural fertilizer that can be placed in indoor and outdoor flower pots, around shrubs and trees and in gardens.

Use compost as an additive to garden soil. To create a rich additive, mix a layer of compost 1-3 inches thick into garden soil. The compost adds small amounts of nutrients to the soil and makes the soil easier to cultivate; improves drainage and aeration of clay soils; supplies extra nutrients to plants; and encourages earthworm activity.

Use compost as mulch around trees, shrubs, flowers and garden plants. To create a rich mulch, apply it in 2-3 inch layers on top of the soil around trees, shrubs, flowers and garden plants. This type of mulch is valuable because it helps reduce rainfall run-off; decreases water evaporation; prevents soil erosion by wind and water; helps control weeds; keeps the soil cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather; and has a pleasing appearance.

Use compost as a blended potting soil mixture. To create a rich potting soil, blend with soil, sand and other materials to make potting mix for potted plants. The compost helps potting soil stay soft while water is held in the mixture of compost, soil and sand.

What can be composted?

Grass Clippings
Garden Plants
Ground Brush
Wood Ash
Fruit and Vegetable Peelings
Egg Shells
Coffee Grounds

What cannot be composted?

Fatty Foods like Grease and Cooking Oils


How to Compost

Residents of Otter Tail County may deliver their yard waste to one of the County's Solid Waste Transfer Sites or Landfills or they can compost at home. Some materials that may be used to form compost containers at home are the following:

Flexible Wire Panels
Bricks or Cement Blocks
Wood Frames
Snow Fencing
Woven Wire (Chicken Wire)
Wooden Pallets

Compost can also be piled on the ground. Keep in mind that if food wastes are added, it may be an invitation for animals to dig through the compost looking for food. Always bury food waste deep within the pile.

Building a Compost Pile

Choose a location that will be easy to access when adding materials to the pile and when using the finished compost. The location should be near a supply of water in a partly sunny area, protected from wind, and have good drainage.

1. Start the pile with a layer of coarse material like branches and twigs to allow air to flow through the pile.
2. Then, add six inches of leaves and other woody materials on top of the first layer of branches and twigs. This is to give the compost pile a source of carbon.
3. Next, add 2-3 inches of grass clippings, kitchen and garden wastes as a source of nitrogen.
4. After that, mix the leaves, wood materials, grass clippings, kitchen and garden wastes to help speed up decomposition.
5. Then, add 2 inches of dirt to the top of the pile, to control odors.
6. Keep the pile damp by adding water as new layers are added or if the weather is dry. The pile should be concave in the center so the water does not run off the pile. The moisture is sufficient when the top surface of the pile glistens.
7. Mix or turn the pile once a week and occasionally sprinkle it with water to keep it moist. This will help speed up the decomposition process.
8. Finally, when the interior of the pile is no longer hot and has broken down into dark, crumbly soil-like material , the compost is finished. This process usually takes 3-6 months.

Questions and Answers on How to Combat Problems

Question: Why does the compost pile give off a bad odor?
Answer: Because it is not getting enough air. Turn or stir the material with a pitchfork or shovel.

Question: Why is the center of the compost pile dry?
Answer: Not enough water has been added. Moisten the pile with water while turning or stirring the pile.

Question: Why is the compost damp and warm in the middle but nowhere else?
Answer: The pile is too small. Make a new pile with new material and add the previous pile to it.

Question: Why is the compost heap damp and sweet smelling, but does not heat up?
Answer: The pile is lacking nitrogen. Mix in a source of nitrogen such as fresh manure or bloodmeal.

Question: Why does the compost pile have weeds growing in it?
Answer: The composting process is not yet complete.



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