By Patrick Troyer

Education specialist

No matter what time of the year or season it may be, composting is always a great thing to do! In the cold of winter or the heat of summer, composting works all year long.

Before I get too far, some might be curious what composting is and how exactly it works.

Simply put, compost is a soil high in nutrients that is made up of decomposing organic matter that includes a wide variety of materials such as vegetables, yard clippings, leaves etc. Decomposers such as worms do the work of breaking this material down into a fine and nutritious soil that is an excellent natural fertilizer for plants.

Composting is a practice that is very easy to get started and to maintain.

What do you need? Most folks will build a bin to keep their compost pile in that they can scoop out as needed, while others will make a pile and keep it covered. It all depends on how much space that you have available to dedicate to your compost pile.

Now that you know what to use for composting, how do you set everything up?

Three basic ingredients make up composting which include browns, greens and water. Browns include dead leaves, branches, and twigs. The greens include just about everything green such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps and coffee grounds. Per the US EPA, water is an important ingredient in composting as having the right amount of water, greens, and browns proves crucial to development of compost material.

It is important to have an equal amount of browns and greens in your compost pile. Organic materials of different sizes should be alternated in layers in your pile. The brown materials provide the carbon for the compost, green materials provide nitrogen, and water provides the moisture needed to help break down the organic material.

What are some things that can be composted?

Vegetable and fruit scraps are excellent composting material and they can be fresh, cooked or canned. Coffee grounds, tea bags, garden wastes and fresh grass clippings provide additional compost material. These green items are rich in nitrogen.

Brown material, rich in carbon, such as dry leaves, straw, sawdust, untreated wood chips, dried grass clippings and even shredded paper napkins can be composted. The main thing to keep in mind with composting is that larger materials and woody materials are going to take more time to compost, so patience is required.

There are some creatures in nature that help us produce compost. One of the more popular ones to use are redworms. This form of composting is known as vermicomposting. Worms will eat a variety of different things such as non-citrus fruits, vegetables, and eggshells to name a few. Once worms digest their food, they must get rid of their waste and release castings or their poop, which is the compost that is received from the worms. It is very high in nutrients and very beneficial for gardens and plants.

Contrary to what most might think, composting takes place all year long, just a little bit slower in the winter.

Michigan State Extension says that you shouldn’t confuse stream from your compost pile with fires, as compost piles will traditionally steam as heat is part of the process of breaking organic material down. You may see that your compost pile will be visible in the wintertime as snow quickly melts off the pile. If you place straw or leaves over the compost pile in the wintertime, the core of the pile will stay warmer longer.

So why should you compost? Per the US EPA, food scraps and yard wastes currently make up 20-30% of everything we throw away that could be composted instead. Even though we may think these items are useless to us, that could not be further from the truth. That material still has value and can help us to have the nutrients readily available we need to help grow the plants that will feed our growing population.

The EPA further notes that composting encourages the production of beneficial bacterial and fungi that help break down organic matter to create humus, which is a very nutrient rich material great for plants. Most importantly, we are saving landfill space and reducing our carbon footprint.

The Paulding SWCD office is happy to answer any questions you may have to get your compost pile started.