Mulch A-Do

Back in the old days, I had lots of time, it seems, looking back, for volunteering in offbeat and trendy projects. 
One such was my ambition to join the composting movement here in my county of Monmouth, led by a vivacious, wonderful woman at my local county park.
 
So what is this thing – composting! Why would you want to save your garbage, let alone store it in your beautiful landscape! Well, read on. This article should dispel some of the myths/misconceptions about this activity.
 
First of all, there is a simple reason to compost. In nature, in a forest, the ground is composed of soil of course, but if you look closely, you may notice it’s really a mixture of organic materials, rotted down to different one degrees. It’s a fact that whatever falls from the trees – leaves, nuts, blossoms, becomes part of that rich layer on the ground. The top layer of ground litter would have identifiable objects such as leaves or seeds, underneath that may be semi-rotted materials, plus worms, beetles and other denizens of the forest floor. Then, under all the layers, you will come upon a rich, dark, actually sweet-smelling substance. This is what finished compost is. The end-product of decomposition. That end-product is so full of nourishment for plants and soil organisms, you actually couldn’t buy it. One of the things I find so special about composting is that the end-product is unique to my locale, my yard, and the items that I myself chose to reuse, recycle and return to the earth. The earth I am privileged to tend.
 
Another aspect of composting that would appeal to all of us is that you are redirecting waste out of the trip to the garbage heap (currently located, in monmouth county, in Tinton Falls). The problems of maintaining and using these huge piles of dumped material is one that Monmouth County wrestles with constantly. With an expanding population, competition for building space vs. waste space is tight. In fact, the landfill could be used for many more years, if it were used less.
 
So where is the bin? Hidden to all!

So, there is no conflict between what we of the Unitarian/Universalist faith believe and what we do when we honor our Seventh Principle. Finding ways to live comfortably while providing for the future comes naturally to us!

Now for some practical tips:
When considering your compost project, you need to ask yourself two questions (among others). 1. what type of material will I be putting into my pile; 2. where will I build my pile.
Most ingredients are safe for dogs,
especially curious ones like Missy.

First, think of what you use that can conceivably be composed of organic matter. Kitchen scraps is the first thing that comes to mind – banana peels, coffee grounds, tea bags. The other major ingredient may be paper. Paper, in fact, is the biggest filler in our landfill historically. Taking paper out of the waste stream may be the biggest advantage to composing. Most of us, however; participate in recycling programs in our towns. That is fine. You can assign some material to the compost heap while “donating” the excess.

Second, there is no “proper” placement of the compost pile. Ideally, it should be away from the house and far enough away from neighbors, so that it is not an eyesore. A shady spot in a corner would be ideal. What about some space behind the shed or the end of the side yard. Maybe the tip of the driveway. You can grow some grasses or high perennials (sunflowers, tithonia, phlox) nearby to help camouflage it. As far as smells, I find it only smells for a short time. The semi-rotted material can be turned under to minimize odors. Also, putting a layer of “dry” like straw or leaves (or paper) will alleviate that tendency to smell. I found that the worst thing is to throw fresh cut grass on top of the pile. If you do make that mistake, Stand back! The ammonia in the fresh grass will quickly heat up the pile and create a problem. And it will smell like well, ammonia. Otherwise, grass is an excellent source of quick nitrogen for the pile.
The kitchen scraps in a metal and covered bucket
from the kitchen counter.
Which brings us to the care and feeding of your pile. Keep it wet. Make sure there is a source of water nearby, or run a hose out to the pile for a quick moisture replenishment. The pile will need moisture to support the steady breakdown by living organisms. Be sure to cover any fresh waste with a dry layer as mentioned above. This layering is crucial to sustain a high temperature while the pile is “cooking.”
Compost in the making.

How do you know when it’s done? Ever get down on your knees and really smell the soil? There is a fresh, oxygenated smell to fresh earth. Bacteria responsible for breaking down organic matter actually produce oxygen, so don’t inhale too long! It may prove to be intoxicating. This fresh aroma plus the fact that the material is cool to the touch, is a signal that the compost is done.

Tools of the trade will include a good pitchfork to
occasionally turn the compost pile.

What to do with your compost – use it as a top-dressing for your favorite plants. It works equally well with any plant. Compost contains the ideal combination of nutrients and micronutrients essential for healthy plant growth. The compost should feel sort of like a wet sponge. It should crumble. Actually, you will get to know when it is ready after composting for a while. Just be patient. It may take a few months for your first results.

The finished product – clean, sweet soil.

Composting is an earth-friendly activity and you will be amazed at the friends you will meet.


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