Composting for the Newbie

It’s spring. The grass is growing, trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and it’s time to whip the yard into shape. What do plants, trees, flowers, and shrubs like to grow in? Nice dark, rich, moist soil. What do we have in Texas? Dry, rocky, and typically alkaline soil. Sure, there are things that like to grow in Texas soil (other than rocks), but unless you are cultivating an expanse of crab grass and dandelions, you might be interested in composting.

Composting is defined as combining decaying organic materials and allowing them to break down completely to form a nutrient-rich soil that you can use to plant and cultivate a vegetable garden, flower garden, or newly-planted tree.

Josh and I have talked about composting for years. We haven’t started yet. One of the biggest tasks we face is keeping creatures (ours and others) out of any composting we do, and this will require some construction on our part. We are still working on deciding what kind of enclosure to use and how much to spend on it. We have also learned there are many considerations to make:

  • Do not add pet droppings
  • Do not add meat scraps/waste
  • Do not add vegetation that’s been treated with fertilizer or pesticides
  • Limit or exclude dairy waste due to potential for foul odor
  • Limit addition of weeds and grass clippings
  • Mince/chop/shred bulky vegetable waste like corn cobs
  • Shred and layer cardboard with established composting materials to break the cardboard down more quickly
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  • Egg shells and coffee grounds/filters are great items to add
  • There are state regulations to consider
  • The location of the compost bin/enclosure is important (as in keep it downwind from your back porch if you don’t want to enjoy your morning coffee with eau de compost)
  • Your compost will need lots of tender, loving care. You will need to turn it daily or at least every other day to ensure that new material is mixing with old material and that all of the material is getting aerated. You also will need to add a little water when you add new material (making the material damp but not soaked). The temperature of the compost and the smell of it will indicate if the system is working and/or when the composting process is done. The compost should smell earthy and sweet rather than foul, and when the process is complete, the temperature should be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Getting started with composting seems daunting to me. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information about composting available online. In fact, the information available is overwhelming and, in some cases, contradictory. Right now, my favorite online resources for composting information are eHow and How Stuff Works. I think my next task is to research how to build our own compost tumbler. As much as I would like to stick to a simple composting area in our yard, I think a tumbler is our best bet for keeping nosy neighbors (of the furry persuasion) out and keeping the odors down. I think our goal is to establish a composting system in our yard this fall when the trees start to lose their leaves.

    In the event that you do not want to compost on your property, you can donate your compostable items, and/or you can purchase compost. Refer to this great list of resources from edible AUSTIN.

    Do you compost? If so, please share your tips and tricks. If you are a DIYer that built your own composting tumbler or enclosure, tell us all about it!

    Written by Lori Anderson

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