“A rind is a terrible thing to waste!” No one knows for certain, but most likely composting has been around since the dawn of civilization. According to information found on the Internet, some have speculated that our ancestors “many moons” ago dumped food waste in piles near their camps and noticed that, as the food rotted, certain plants sprouted and flourished in this atmosphere. Afterwards, they probably even intentionally planted seeds in these piles and thus passed down to us “modern day folk” the art of composting.
Most gardeners today recognize the benefits of composting biodegradable waste and enjoy tending to a small compost pile. Indeed, it can be a pile without any fancy “store-bought” device to facilitate the art; but, with most of us living in confined urban or suburban lots, it is probably better to have some type of bin to keep things looking neat.
It is really an enjoyment to most gardeners to see their leaves, pine straw, grass clippings, food waste and such turn into useful ingredients for their flower beds, gardens and lawns; and it takes little effort to accomplish this feat.
First, find a spot in the yard that suits you that is not unattractive and then either start a pile or build or buy a compost bin. You can start by not bagging your leaves and/or pine straw for pick up by the City. Instead, shred them with a mower or shredder and place them in your compost pile/bin. Shredding helps the formerly living material break down quicker. In addition, you can add to the compost pile any carbon-based material, such as vegetables, melon rinds, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds and such. But avoid insect- infested plant materials, meats, dairy products, cooking oil, or grease.
Or, place the material in a large plastic bag-alternating yard waste, fertilizer and lime (1 tsp of fertilizer, high nitrogen content, and 1 cup of hydrated lime); add a quart of water and close the bag tightly. After about six months to a year you will have some compost.
For the serious gardener, I recommend that you build a 5′ diameter wire mesh enclosure and place about six inches of tree branch limbs on the bottom to allow air to enter from the bottom as well as from the sides and top to help facilitate the composting process. Oxygen and water are necessary to keep the compost pile “cooking.” It will generate a temperature of 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and kill some undesirable pathogens. You should layer the material in 6-8″ layers and place a thin layer of soil and a bit of fertilizer before starting the next layer.
The pile must not be too moist or too dry. You will learn this art by trial and error. The pile must be turned every few days to keep it from “souring.” Remember, some things, e.g. dog or cat waste and any plastic foam and some other materials are not appropriate for your compost pile; but shredded newspaper (not the slick paper found in many advertisements) is okay.
Your flowers, shrubs and vegetables will flourish with the addition of compost from time to time. Do your part to help our environment by starting a compost pile today, and remember: “A rind is a terrible thing to waste!”
David E. Pierson, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service