Compost

Photo © crabchick

Can you believe that food waste is the second-largest material (by weight) headed to American landfills? Add in almost half of our collective yard trimmings, and that equals hundreds of thousands of tons of compostable organic matter. Once in the landfill, yard waste and kitchen scraps decompose under conditions which produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Are you wasting your yard waste? Why not turn a small corner of your yard into a nutrient source that not only replenishes your soil but supports the base of the bird food pyramid.

Compost Pile

Composting returns nutrients to your soil and diverts waste from landfills

Photo © Steve Maskell

Composting is simply the process of controlled decomposition; it can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. If you’ve never had a compost pile before, we recommend checking out the links below or taking a class from your local cooperative extension to find out how to make this “black gold.” Getting started is a simple weekend project.

Compost Ecology

Photo © Northern Flicker © Janet Heintz, Text © Cornell Waste Management Institute

The basic principle of home composting is to balance carbon-rich materials (“browns”, like leaves and wood chips) with nitrogen-rich materials (“greens”, like grass clippings and kitchen scraps) in a ratio of 25 to 1 (carbon:nitrogen). Actually, it’s a lot like making lasagna. The first layer in the bin should be a loose pile of twigs and branches; this will improve air circulation and reduce odors. Next, add your “browns” to balance moisture. Layer on some “greens” to provide nutrients. Continue layering browns and greens, adding more of one or the other if things get too moist or too dry (it should be neither soggy nor completely dry). Then let it “cook” in the sun for several months. Voila! You will have a clean, cheap soil additive to spread in your garden. With this method, it isn’t necessary to turn your pile regularly, but doing so will speed up the process. Use the finished product in place of synthetic fertilizers for an organic, climate-friendly garden.

Nematodes

Tiny creatures like these C. elegans have a big role to play in any ecosystem

Photo © snickclunk
Tip: To minimize health risks, don’t compost pet waste, meats, or food scrapings of people who are sick. If your compost does not get hot enough for long enough to reduce pathogens (~131° F for at least 3 days), you may want to consider letting your small-scale compost age for at least a year before using it in the garden.

The decomposing organic matter does serve a more immediate need for birds beyond having a cleaner environment. Compost piles are actually full of wildlife! For instance, a handful of normal backyard compost contains several million nematodes. And this is good. Nematodes contribute to your backyard balance by providing services like eating gnat larva. Compost acts as habitat for these and other beneficial microorganisms. Many insects, snails, and slugs eat microorganisms and decaying matter found in compost, and in turn become highly valuable food for birds.

Add a compost to your Map

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Photo ©

While logged into your map, click on the Toolshed and choose the third step; adding objects. Scroll over in the objects to find the compost icon. Select it and add the object to your map.

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Photo ©

Make sure to complete the characteristics for this object by telling us about the types of scraps you add to your compost and what kind of system it is.

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