Composters come in several forms. Above is a store-bought version.

Compost — a natural fertilizer that provides many essential nutrients for plant growth and overall healthy plants — involves decomposed organic material such as leaves, grass clippings and, if you wish, kitchen waste.

However, never throw meat or poultry remains in your compost bin. That attracts unwanted visitors that can leave unwanted fecal remains.

Composting is good for several reasons. It:

• Returns valuable nutrients to the soil to help maintain soil quality and fertility.

• Saves water by helping the soil hold moisture and reducing water runoff.

• Benefits the environment by recycling organic material and saving landfill space.

Compost is compared to a slow-release fertilizer that will not burn your plants like excessive applications of chemical fertilizer can.

Make it yourself

You can combine the basic ingredients in a pile or a homemade bin and let the material decompose by the interaction of aerobic (with oxygen) organisms. Composting also provides an environment for soil microbes and lots of earthworms. Earthworms and millions of microbes consume the organic matter and, as an “end” result, break it down into a form plants can absorb as food. And, it’s free.

Four basic ingredients are needed: Greens, browns, air and moisture.

Browns are dead leaves and weeds, clipped brush, wood ash, egg shells, sawdust, wood chips or straw.

Greens are grass clippings. Do not use clippings that have been conditioned with a weed spray if you plan to use your compost for a vegetable garden.

Moisture can be provided by rain, or you can water the compost pile. The air component refers to continuous air circulation, which is critical for good decomposition.

You can make several types of compost bins rather than buying an expensive machine. You can start with just a pile of materials in the back of your yard, or get three old pallets, or some very heavy steel screens, and stand them up like a “U.”

Adding material is easy. Throw in your grass clippings and add a layer of dried leaves. A few twigs will not hurt the compost and will give added space for air circulation.

When you add new ingredients, try to mix up the contents. Don’t keep adding grass clippings without brown material as well.

Using a large pitchfork, turn the pile over several times to keep the mix working.

If you would like to kick start your compost pile, you can add some ready-made compost or seasoned manure. If you are going to add manure to your pile, make sure it is at least a year old. If you add fresh manure to the mix, you should not use the compost until next season.

The value of recycling

Why is saving landfill space so important? When we throw materials into a landfill, they may be biodegradable but not in a favorable manner. When garbage and lawn waste degrade in a landfill, they degrade anaerobically (without oxygen) instead of aerobically (with oxygen). When this occurs, the end result is methane gas release. However, when we compost, we reduce greenhouse gasses.

So start composting.

Fayock’s love for gardening and the outdoors began as one of his Eagle Scout projects.

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