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					What is Compost?
Compost is a dark, crumbly, and earthysmelling form of decomposing
organic matter.

Why Should I Make Compost?
Composting is the most practical and convenient way to handle your
yard wastes. It can be easier and cheaper than bagging these wastes
or taking them to the transfer station. Compost also improves your
soil and the plants growing in it. If you have a garden, a lawn, trees,
shrubs, or even planter boxes, you have a use for compost.

By using compost you return organic matter to the soil in a usable
form. Organic matter in the soil improves plant growth by helping
to break up heavy clay soils and improving their structure, by adding
water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils, and by adding
essential nutrients to any soil. Improving your soil is the first step
toward improving the health of your plants. Healthy plants help clean
our air and conserve our soil, making our communities healthier
places in which to live.

What Can I Compost?
Anything that was once alive can be composted. Yard wastes, such
as fallen leaves, grass clippings, weeds and the remains of garden
plants, make excellent compost. Woody yard wastes can be clipped
and sawed down to a size useful for the wood stove or fireplace or
they can be run through a shredder for mulching and path-making.                  How Can I Use Compost?
Used as a mulch or for paths, they will eventually decompose and                  Compost can be used to enrich the flower and
become compost.                                                                   vegetable garden, to improve the soil around trees
                                                                                  and shrubs, as a soil amendment for houseplants
Care must be taken when composting kitchen scraps. Compost                        and planter boxes and, when screened, as part of a
them only by the methods outlined in this brochure. Meat, bones                   seed-starting mix or lawn top-dressing. Before they
and fatty foods (such as cheese, salad dressing, and leftover cooking             decompose, chipped woody wastes make excellent
oil) should be put in the garbage.                                                mulch or path material. After they decompose,
                                                                                  these same woody wastes will add texture to garden


Cornell Waste Management Institute               http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/compostbrochure.pdf                                        1
2005
                             The Essentials of Composting
    With these principles in mind, everyone can make excellent use of their organic wastes.


                    Biology                                           machete, or running them through a shredding machine or
                      The compost pile is really a teeming            lawnmower will speed their composting.
                      microbial farm. Bacteria start the process
                      of decaying organic matter. They are the                         Volume
                      first to break down plant tissue and also                         A large compost pile will insulate itself and
      the most numerous and effective composters. Fungi and                            hold the heat of microbial activity. Its center
      protozoans soon join the bacteria and, somewhat later in                         will be warmer than its edges. Piles smaller
      the cycle, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and earthworms                        than 3 feet cubed (27 cu.ft.) will have trouble
      do their parts.                                                 holding this heat, while piles larger than 5 feet cubed (125
                                                                      cu.ft.) don’t allow enough air to reach the microbes at the
                     Materials                                        center. These proportions are of importance only if your goal
                                                                      is a fast, hot compost.
                      Anything growing in your yard is potential
                      food for these tiny decomposers. Carbon
                      and nitrogen, from the cells of dead                             .Moisture & Aeration
                      plants and dead microbes, fuel their
                                                                                     All life on Earth needs a certain amount of
      activity. The microorganisms use the carbon in leaves or
                                                                                     water and air to sustain itself. The microbes
      woodier wastes as an energy source. Nitrogen provides
                                                                                     in the compost pile are no different. They
      the microbes with the raw element of proteins to build
                                                                      function best when the compost materials are about as moist
      their bodies.
                                                                      as a wrung-out sponge, and are provided with many air
      Everything organic has a ratio of carbon to nitrogen            passages. Extremes of sun or rain can adversely affect this
      (C:N) in its tissues, ranging from 500:1 for sawdust,           moisture balance in your pile.
      to 15:1 for table scraps. A C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for
      the activity of compost microbes. This balance can be
      achieved by mixing two parts grass clippings (which have                        Time & Temperature
      a C:N ratio of 20:1) with one part fallen leaves (60:1)                         The faster the composting, the hotter the
      in your compost. Layering can be useful in arriving at                          pile. If you use materials with a proper
      these proportions, but a complete                                                        C:N ratio, provide a large amount
      mixing of ingredients is preferable                                                      of surface area and a big enough
      for the composting process. Other                                                        volume, and see that moisture
      materials can also be used, such as                                                      and aeration are adequate, you
      weeds and garden wastes. Though                                                          will have a hot, fast compost (hot
      the C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for                                                       enough to burn your hand!) and will
      a fast, hot compost, a higher ratio                                                      probably want to use the turning
      (i.e., 50:1) will be adequate for a                                                      unit discussed in the next section.
      slower compost. Table 1 provides an                                                      If you just want to deal with your
      estimate for the C:N ratio of common                                                     yard wastes in an inexpensive, easy,
      materials.                                                                               non-polluting way, the holding unit
                                                                                               (also discussed on the next page)
                                                                                               will serve you well.
                      Surface Area
                     The more surface
                     area the micro
                     organisms have to
                     work on, the faster
                     the materials are
      decomposed. It’s like a block of ice
      in the sun-slow to melt when it’s                                                          Table 1
      large, but melting very fast when
                                                                                                 Some Typical C/N Ratios
      broken into smaller pieces. Chopping
                                                                                                 (based on dry weight)
      your garden wastes with a shovel or

Cornell Waste Management Institute             http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/compostbrochure.pdf                                           2
2005
                                      Composting Yard Wastes




Holding Units                           Turning Units
These simple containers for             This is a series of three or more
                                        bins that allows wastes to be turned          be ready for garden use. See the
yard wastes are the least labor and
                                        on a regular schedule. Turning units          Rodale Guide to Composting in your
time-consuming way to compost.
                                        are most appropriate for gardeners            library for more information on hot
Which wastes? Non-woody yard            with a large volume of yard waste             composting.
wastes are the most appropriate.        and the desire to make a highquality          Advantages & disadvantages This
How? Place the holding unit where it    compost.                                      method produces a high-quality
is most convenient. As weeds, grass     Which wastes? Non-woody yard                  compost in a short time utilizing a
clippings, leaves and harvest remains   wastes are appropriate. Kitchen               substantial input of labor.
from garden plants are collected,       wastes without meat, bones or fatty           Variations The unit can be built of
they can be dropped into the unit.      foods can be added to the center of a         wood, a combination of wood and
Chopping or shredding wastes,           pile if it is turned weekly and reaches       wire, or concrete block. Another
alternating high-carbon and high-       high temperatures.                            type of turning unit is the barrel
nitrogen materials, and keeping up                                                    composter, which tumbles the wastes
good moisture and aeration will all     How? Alternate the layering of high-
                                        carbon and highnitrogen materials             for aeration.
speed the process.
                                        to approximately a 30:1 ratio. These
Advantages & disadvantages For          should be moistened to the damp
yard wastes this is the simplest        sponge stage. The
method. The units can be portable,      pile temperature
moving to wherever needed in the        should be checked
garden. This method can take from 6     regularly; when
months to 2 years to compost organic    the heat decreases
materials, so you need to be patient.   substantially, turn
Because it does not get hot, weed       the pile into the next
seeds (and pathogens if present) may    bin. Dampen the
persist in the compost.                 materials if they are
Variations Holding units can be         not moist, and add
made of circles of hardware cloth,      more high-nitrogen
old wooden pallets, or wood and         material if heating is
wire. Sod can also be composted         not occurring. Then
with or without a holding unit, by      make a new pile in the
turning sections of it over, making     original bin. Repeat
sure that there is adequate moisture,   the process each time
and covering it with black plastic.     the pile in the first
                                        bin cools. After two
                                        weeks in the third bin,
                                        the compost should


 Cornell Waste Management Institute          http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/compostbrochure.pdf                                3
 2005
                                  Composting Food Wastes




Mulching                                      Soil                                              Earthworm
Yard wastes can be used for weed              Incorporation                                     Compost
control and water retention.
                                              Burying your organic wastes is the                Feeding earthworms in wooden
Which wastes? Woody yard wastes,              simplest method of composting.                    bins is a good way to make high-
leaves, and grass clippings.                                                                    quality compost from food scraps.
                                              Which wastes? Kitchen scraps
How? You can simply spread leaves             without meat, bones or fatty foods.               Which wastes? Kitchen scraps
or grass clippings beneath plantings.                                                           without meat, bones, or fatty foods.
For woody materials up to 1” in               How? Everything should be buried
diameter, rent or purchase a chipper/         at least 8 inches below the surface.              How? Fill a bin with moistened
shredder. Tree services, if they are in       Holes can be filled and covered,                  bedding such as peat moss for
your neighborhood, often will deliver         becoming usable garden space the                  the worms. Rotate the burying of
wood chips free.                              following season.                                 food wastes throughout the worm
                                                                                                bin. Every 3-6 months the worm
Advantages & disadvantages All                Advantages & disadvantages This is
                                                                                                population should be divided and
yard wastes will work first as a mulch         a simple method, but because of the
                                                                                                moved to fresh bedding. Refer to
and then, as decomposition proceeds,          absence of air, some nutrients will be
                                                                                                Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary
as a soil enrichment. A disadvantage          lost. Rodents and dogs can become a
                                                                                                Appelhof (available at some library
of mulching with woody yard wastes            problem with wastes buried less than
                                                                                                branches) for more information.
is that you may have to buy or                6 inches deep.
rent power equipment or make                                                                    Advantages & disadvantages This
                                              Variations Using a posthole digger,
arrangements with a tree service.                                                               is an efficient way to convert food
                                              wastes can be incorporated into the
                                                                                                wastes into high-quality soil for
Variations Use chipped materials for          soil near the drip line of trees or
                                                                                                houseplants, seedling transplants,
informal garden paths.                        shrubs and in small garden spaces.
                                                                                                or general garden use. The worms
                                                                                                themselves are a useful product for
                                                                                                fishing. However, worm composting
                                                                                                is more expensive and complicated
 This brochure is available on our “Small                                                       than soil incorporation for dealing
 Scale or Backyard Composting” site:                                                            with food wastes.
 http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/smallscale.htm                                                     Variations A stationary outdoor bin
                                                                                                can be used in all but the coldest
 For More Information                                                                           months, or a portable indoor/outdoor
 For more information about composting, contact your                                            bin can be used year-round.
 county Cooperative Extension Office.




               Adapted by the Cornell Waste Management Institute, Dept of Crop and Soil Sciences, Rice Hall, Ithaca NY 14853
                                                     <http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu>
                                                   from the Seattle Tilth Association.
 Cornell Waste Management Institute           http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/compostbrochure.pdf                                          4
 2005

				
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Description: compost fertilizer for home use