Backyard composting is an effective way of recycling organic wastes such as leaves, grass and food scraps that are generated at home. Composting at home is easy and helps to keep waste out of our landfills.
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Compost is a dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling form of decomposing organic matter.
There are four basic ingredients for composting: nitrogen, carbon, water and air. Composting requires blending equal parts of green or wet material (high in nitrogen) and brown or dry material (high in carbon). Simply layer or mix these materials in a pile or enclosure; chop or shred large pieces. Add water if needed and fluff to add air. Then leave and allow the break down of the material over time.
Green materials such as grass clippings and landscape trimmings are ideal sources of nitrogen for composting. Vegetable and fruit trimmings and peels can also provide nitrogen. Avoid meat or dairy scraps and bury any food scraps deep within the compost pile.
Brown (dry) yard and garden material such as dry leaves, twigs, or straw can provide the carbon balance for a compost pile. Chop or shred large pieces (thick, woody branches should be chipped, ground up, or left out).
One of the most common mistakes in composting is letting the pile get too dry. Your compost pile should be moist as a wrung-out sponge. A moisture content of 40 to 60 percent is preferable. To test for adequate moisture, reach into your compost pile and grab a handful of material and squeeze it; if a few drops of water come out, it's probably got enough moisture, if it doesn't, add water. When you water, it is best to put a hose into the pile so that you aren't just wetting the top. You can also water as you are turning the pile. During dry weather, you may have to add water regularly. During wet weather or during the winter, you may need to cover your pile. A properly constructed compost pile will drain excess water and not become soggy.
If your pile is too dense or becomes too wet, the air supply to the inside is cut off and the beneficial organisms die. Decomposition will slow and an offensive odor may arise. To avoid this and speed the process, turn and fluff the pile with a pitchfork often, perhaps weekly. You can also turn the pile by just re-piling it into a new pile; many composting bins make this easy to do by coming apart so you can easily re-pile the old pile back into the bin.
There are many materials you can compost. The following information sheet will provide some guidance to what materials are acceptable for composting and those materials it is generally recommended to omit for composting.
Fact sheet: What can I compost?
There are several styles available for composting bins. Each type of container requires different levels of management.
Please Note: The Broome County Landfill has Earth Machine Composters for sale year round. The units sell for $45 (includes tax). They can be purchased at the Broome County Landfill located at 286 Knapp Rd., Binghamton, NY. For more information, please call 778-2250.
This is the cheapest form of composting and is great if you have lots of yard trimmings and a moderate to large area to locate your pile. This method can attract animals that are likely to scavenge the pile. An open pile should be covered during prolonged rainy weather and during the winter.
Non woody yard wastes are the most appropriate. As weeds, grass clippings, leaves and garden plants are collected; they can be dropped into the unit. Chopping or shredding material, alternating high carbon and high nitrogen materials, and keeping up good moisture and aeration will all speed the process. This method can take from 6 months to 2 years to compost materials. Weed seeds (and pathogens if present) may persist in the compost pile as the pile does not get very hot.
This system is efficient allowing you to have 3 working piles at different stages of decomposition and it is easy to turn and harvest final compost. this style bin can be made animal resistant.
Self contained barrels, drums that rotate for easy mixing and fast decomposition. They are more expensive than other systems, but can be more convenient because they are easier to turn. These bins are fin for small spaces and are usually animal resistant.
Worm composting is unquie because it usesfood scraps only and no yard waste. It is for people with small yards, or no yard. Worm composting bins can be made in any size or can be purchased. Worm bins are designed to exclude critters that might be attracted to food scraps. A successful worm bin will not smell, can be harvested every few months and can be kept indoors or ooutdoors during the warmer months.
Before starting, determine an appropriate location for the compost pile. Choose a level area with good drainage. Standing water will slow down the pile. If possible avoid direct sunlight and areas exposed to strong winds, which can dry and cool the pile. A half day sun situation is ideal. A shaded area is fine, but pay attention to limited rainfall through a canopy of leaves, and slow drying out of a saturated pile. Some trees may send roots up into the pile in search of water and nutrients.
Bins or piles should not be built directly against a tree trunk or in a tree well, which might harbor bark-gnawing mice or inhibit respiration. To ensure domestic tranquility, avoid placing a pile directly on a property line or next to a neighbor's patio or window. A pile can be built in either sun or shade with equal success, although gardeners in hot, dry climates often favor a shaded location to prevent the pile from drying out during summer months.
For help trouble shooting your compost pile visit the following website:
Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County – Composting Fact Sheets
For more information on composting or vermicoposting (worm bin composting) contact Kevin Mathers, Cornell Coopertive Exxtension Resource Educator, at email@example.com, or call (607) 584-5013.