backyard composting

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Backyard Composting is booklet produced by the City of Greeley and the Weld County Health Department. The book is a how-to guide to help you compost your own garbage. Composting is a practical and convenient way to transform yard wastes into a resource.


  • Backyard Composting

    Weld County Health Department and

    City of Greeley

  • Visit Weld Countys Backyard Composting Demonstration Sites:

    Xeric gardens, community gardens & compost demonstration sites:

    Plumb Farm Learning Center955 39th Avenue, Greeley

    Greeley West High School Horticultural Department

    2401 35th Avenue, Greeley

    UNC Xeric Demonstration GardensCommunity Gardens

    17th Ave & Reservoir Road, Greeley

    Clay Center of Northern Colorado1024 6th Avenue, Greeley

  • Resources:Colorado State University Cooperative

    Extension(Master Gardener Program)Weld County 970-304-6535

    Fact sheets:

    Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment

    1555 N. 17th St, Greeley, 80631 Environmental Health Services Division

    City of Greeley 1100 10th Street, Greeley 80631 Natural Resources Office 970-350-9783 Water Conservation Office 970-350-9874

    This community site is for woody materials or large volumes that the home composter may not be able

    to process at home.

    Some of the text for this brochure was adapted from materials prepared for the Community Composting education Program of the Seattle Engineering Departments Solid waste Utility and the Seattle Tilth Association. The clip art pictures were used with permission from the Composting Council and taken from their National Backyard Composting Program training manual. We appreciate the use of their materials.

    Second Edition January 2011

  • What is compost?Compost is a dark, loose, earthy-smelling material made from de-composed organic matter. Organic matter comes from organisms that were once alive. Compost can in-clude yard clippings, leaves, yard trimmings, and kitchen vegeta-tive waste. It can be purchased or made at home. It includes both stabilized organic matter and living organisms necessary for healthy

    plants. Compost is used for fertilizing and conditioning soil.

    Why Should I Compost?Composting is a practical and convenient way to transform yard wastes into a resource. Compost enriches soil, increases the soils water-holding capacity, and improves plant growth. Soil amended with compost requires less water (as much as 30 percent less). When you properly prepare soil with compost, it will retain water while diminishing runoff from the lawn and onto paved surfaces. The use of compost can decrease the need for chemical additives to lawns and gardens.

    By composting, you help the City of Greeley and Weld County meet a priority for waste reduction. According to a 1997 study by Franklin Associates, compostable waste comprises approximately 24 percent of the average persons yearly garbage (50 to 60 percent during the growing season). Rather than paying to have yard trimmings hauled away and taking up valuable landfill space, compost them in the backyard and reap the benefits in the soil and landscape.

    By using compost, it returns 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, by adding water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils, and by adding essential nutrients to any soil. Improving the soil is the first step toward improving the health of plants. Healthy plants help clean the air and conserve our soil, making Northern Colorado a healthier place to live.

  • What Can I Compost?Anything that was once alive can be composted. Non-woody yard wastes such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, weeds, and the remains of garden plants make excellent compost. Use care not to include noxious weeds, weed seeds, or diseased plants, as these materials may not be completely destroyed during the compost-ing process and could be reintroduced to the garden. However, with proper handling, some of these materials may be successfully incorporated into the compost pile. Check with local Master Com-posters for methods to deal with weeds and seeds.

    VariationsUse chipped materials for informal garden paths. Woody yard wastes decompose slowly. However, there are many uses for them other than composting. As an example, you can clip or saw woody wastes and run them through a shredder for mulching or path making. When used as mulch for paths, wood yard wastes will eventually decompose and become compost.

    Care must be taken when composting kitchen scraps. Compost them only by methods outlined in this brochure. Meats, bones, sweets, and fatty foods (such as cheese, salad dressing, and left-over cooking oil) should be put in the garbage.

  • How Can I Use Compost?Compost is primarily used to:

    enrich flower and vegetable gardens to improve the soil around trees and shrubs as a soil amendment for house plants and planter boxes when screened, as part of a seed-starting mix or lawn top-dressing

    Water, in which compost has been soaked for four to six days, makes an excellent tea for watering indoor and outdoor plants. Before they decompose, chipped woody wastes make excellent mulch or path material. After they decompose, these same wood wastes will add texture to garden soils.

    Composting Yard Wastes

    The Essentials of CompostingWith the following principles in mind, everyone can make excellent use of organic yard wastes.

    MaterialsAnything growing in the yard is potential food for these tiny de-composers. Carbon and nitrogen from the cells of dead plants and dead microbes, fuel their activity. The microorganisms use the carbon in leaves or woodier wastes as an energy source. Nitrogen provides the microbes with the raw elements of proteins to build their bodies.

    Everything organic has a ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) in its tissues ranging from 500:1 for sawdust, to 15:1 for table scraps (check the last page for more information on C:N ratios for select-ed materials). A C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for the activity of compost

    BiologyThe compost pile is really a teeming micro-bial farm. Bacteria start the process of de-caying organic matter. They are the first to break down plant tissue and also the most numerous and effective composters. Fungi and protozoans soon join the bacteria and, somewhat later in the cycle,

    centipedes, millipedes, beetles, and earthworms do their part.

  • microbes. This balance can be achieved by mixing two parts grass clippings (which have a C:N ration of 20:1) with one part brown leaves (60:1) in compost. Layering can be useful in arriving at these proportions, but a complete mixing of ingredients is prefera-ble for the composting process. Other materials can also be used, such as weeds and garden wastes. Generally, brown materials, such as fallen leaves and sawdust, are high in carbon, while green materials such as grass clippings and weeds are high in nitro-gen. If you save fallen leaves in bags or piles they will provide an excellent source of carbon to mix with grass clippings the following spring and summer. Though a C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for fast hot compost, a higher ratio (i.e., 50:1) will be adequate for a slower compost.

    The more surface area the microorganisms have to work on, the faster the materials will decompose. Its like a block of ice in the sun slow to melt while its large, but melting very quickly when broken into smaller pieces. Chopping garden wastes with a shovel or machete, or running them through a shredding machine or lawn mower, will speed the composting process.

    VolumeA large compost pile will insulate itself and hold the heat of micro-bial activity. Its center will be warmer than its edges. Piles smaller than 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet (27 cubic feet.) will have trouble hold-ing this heat, while piles larger than 5 feet x 5 feet x 5 feet (125 cubic feet) dont allow enough air to reach the microbes at the center. These proportions are of importance only if the goal is a fast, hot compost.

    Moisture & AerationVirtually all life on Earth needs a certain amount of water and air to sustain itself. The microbes in the compost pile are no different. They function best when the compost materials are about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Extremes of sun or rain can disrupt the moisture balance in the pile. Therefore, you may need to add water to the compost pile if it is too dry (especially in our semi-arid Colorado

  • climate) or cover the pile if it is important for compost materials to receive adequate aeration. Compost piles comprised primarily of grass clipping do not allow air to circulate through the pile. By mix-ing leaves or small limbs and twigs with grass clippings, it provides spaces for air to circulate through the pile.

    Time & TemperatureThe hotter the pile, the faster the composting. If you use materials with proper C:N ratio, reduced particle size, sufficient volume, and see that moisture and aeration are adequate, you will have a hot, fast compost (hot enough to burn your hand!) and will probably want to use a turning unit. If you just want to deal with yard wastes in an inexpensive, easy way, the holding unit will serve you well. Both bin types are discussed in the next section.

    OdorsThe compost should have a good earthy smell. If your compost is developing odors, the conditions are not ideal for making compost. Please refer to the troubleshooting guide on the next page. The homeowner is responsible for maintaining an odor and pest free compost pile and could be cited for improperly maintained com-post piles.

  • Compost Trouble Shooting GuideSymptomThe compost has a bad odor

    The compost has an odor

    The center of the pile is dry

    Temperature of the pile is too low

    Temperature of the pile is too high

    Pests: rats, raccoons, insects