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Organic Waste

Backyard Composting

backyard composterIf you have a yard that generates most any kind of green waste, you probably have the right ingredients and enough room to set up your own compost bin.

Composting is easy and cheap, you can cut down your garbage by hundreds of pounds each year, and create a mixture that can be used to improve the soil.

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Backyard composting isn´t very complicated, but the typical composter will likely run into one or more of these common challenges: 

The pile doesn't heat up.

  • Size matters: A pile that is at least 3 feet wide and tall will help "hot" composting by conserving heat and moisture.
  • Moisture: Try the squeeze test: Pick up a handful of compostable material, make a fist and squeeze it in your hand. If you do not see beads of water between your fingers the pile is too dry. Turn the pile and water thoroughly with a hose.
  • Nitrogen: If the pile is new, you may need to add more "green" to your pile. Try grass clippings or fruit and vegetable scraps. In a pinch, use a scoop of nitrogen-rich plant fertilizer.
  • Aerate: A compost pile needs to breathe to function efficiently. Use coarse materials such as wood chips to create air spaces in the pile and add carbon to the mix.
  • Maybe it´s done:. If your pile is old, and you´ve turned it a few times, you may already have finished compost. Use a screen to sift off bigger pieces and use the compost in your garden or on your lawn.

There´s an odour: Methinks your compost stinks.

  • Rotten egg smell: Your pile may not be getting enough air because it is too wet. Turn the pile with a shovel or pitchfork to let in air and mix things up. Wood chips or some other bulking agent could be added to increase air flow.
  • Rotten egg smell, part 2: If your compost pile is too compacted it won´t get good air flow. Again, turn pile to fluff up the contents and create air pockets. If particle size is small, under one inch, add a bulking agent such as wood chips that are around 2 inches.
  • Ammonia odours often indicate too much "green." Add more carbon materials: dead leaves, non-recyclable paper, or straw. Mix the pile thoroughly and see that the moisture content passes the squeeze test.

The pile is attracting scavengers and insect pests.

  • Non-fat diet: No food wastes with oils, meats, or dairy; odours from these can attract scavengers like raccoons or mice.
  • Keep it covered: Keep new food wastes covered with materials high in carbon and in the middle of the pile. Covering the bin will help keep out larger pests.
  • Insects are a normal part of composting, but an active pile will create enough heat to kill their eggs and reduce the nuisance insects.


Download a copy of the Composting Guide

Download a copy of Northumberland County's Guide to Composting







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