Composting: Reduce Weeds and Plant Pathogens

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner

The topic of composting, and the best way to compost, is a subject that most gardeners have an opinion on. 

The US Department of Agriculture describes composting as:

“The product of a managed process through which microorganisms break down plant and animal materials into more available forms suitable for application to the soil.  Compost must be produced through a process that combines plant and animal materials with an initial C:N (carbon to nitrogen) ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1.  Producers using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system must maintain the composting materials at a temperature between 131F and 170 F for 3 days.  Producers using a window system must maintain the composting materials at a temperature between 131F and 170 F for 15 days, during which time, the materials must be turned a minimum of five times.” C.F.R. & 205.2 (2000)

What does all this mean for the home gardener?  Composting is the ultimate in recycling, and is a nearly free source of the best soil amendment for your garden.  To keep it simple remember, think in terms of green and brown. A general rule of thumb for your compost pile is 2 parts green (this is the Nitrogen for protein) and 1 part brown (Carbon for energy).  You can use a bucket to measure your green and brown.  

For green you can use grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps (vegetables, fruits, eggshells, or coffee grounds, but no grease or meat).  Brown material includes leaves, branches, twigs, sawdust and manure.   

Set up your compost bin or pile (it can be a simple one made of chicken wire), so that it is out of full sun, away from tree roots and has good air circulation. Oxygen is critical to the process.  If you have three different bins, this is even better. You can store leaves in one bin (cover them with a tarp) food scraps in a large bucket with a lid and other materials in a third bin.  Make sure a water source or hose is close by, making it easy to add water to your pile.