Composting is a good option for yard and food waste

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As the fall season progresses, leaves and other yard waste can pile up.  Composting is a practice that is beneficial to the environment and allows property owners to get rid of yard wastes in an effective manner.

Fin-ished compost can be used for a variety of tasks:  improve soil structure in gardens and landscape beds, help soil hold nutrients, reduce erosion and water runoff, reduce weed problems as mulch, moderate soil temperatures, and conserve soil moisture. 

Composting yard and kitchen wastes also reduces the volume of material going into landfills.

Weeds free of seed heads and residues, like vines and pruned limbs, make a good addition to a compost pile.

It is not necessary to remove grass clippings from the lawn if you follow proper lawn management practices; however, if you decide to compost grass clippings, mix them with other materials like leaves or brush.

You also can compost many kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable peelings and cores, coffee grounds, tea bags and crushed eggshells.  However, avoid cooked foods, meat, bones, fat or dairy products because they attract animals.

Put the compost pile on a well-drained site that will benefit from nutrients running off the pile. 

If just starting to compost, prepare the pile in layers of materials, alternating green leafy material with brush or other woody material.

If your compost material contains no soil, sprinkle a little soil or a compost starter in each layer to inoculate the pile with microorganisms.

Ideally, the pile should be 1 cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet).

If you are only going to compost tree leaves, layering might not be necessary; simply add leaves as you collect them. When leaves are dry, add moisture.

Since dead leaves do not have adequate nitrogen for rapid decomposition, mix them with grass clippings or add high-nitrogen fertilizer to speed up breakdown. 

For example, add 5 ounces (one-half cup) of fertilizer containing 10 percent nitrogen analysis for each 20 gallons of compressed leaves.

To ensure good aeration and drainage, occasionally put down a 3-inch layer of coarse plant material, such as small twigs or chopped corn stalks, or use a wooden pallet.

The composting process can be completed in one to two months if materials are shredded, turned to provide good aeration, kept moist, and supplied with nitrogen and other materials that cater to compost-promoting microorganisms.

Periodically turn the compost pile once a month or when the center of the pile is noticeably hot. This will help microbes more efficiently break down wastes. 

The more often you aerate, the more quickly you will have useable compost. Compost is useable when it fails to heat up after turning.

Adequate moisture is essential for microbial activity.  Water the pile so it is damp but does not remain soggy. 

It is especially important to supply water during dry periods and when you add leaves and other dry materials to the compost pile.

If the pile emits an ammonia smell, it is too wet or packed too tightly for oxygen circulation.  Turn the heap and add some coarse material such as small twigs to increase air space.

For more information, please contact the Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 732-7030.

Dates of interest

Oct. 28: Carroll County Cattlemen’s Association Meeting, 6:30 p.m., Carroll County Extension Office.


Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.