RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In nature, there is no such thing as waste. Fallen leaves, twigs, and bits of plant material fall to the ground, where they are broken down by microorganisms, and their nutrients recycled back into the soil to feed another generation of plants.
You can mimic this elegant cycle by using your yard waste as mulch, or by turning it into compost. You’ll be keeping a valuable resource out of the landfill, where it can generate the greenhouse gas methane, and the finished compost will save you money and give you healthier plants. Plants absorb the natural nitrogen in compost more easily than the synthetic nitrogen in fertilizers. Compost also helps soil retain water, saving you money on your water bill. Best of all, you won’t have to spend a cent unless you want to. That’s what I call a real win-win!
To successfully do its job, the "microherd" of fungi and bacteria that digest plant waste needs air, water, a balanced diet, and comfy temps.
Getting the right amount of air is easy: Just keep your compost makings loosely packed. The water balance may be harder to maintain. The pile should be moist but not wet—like a rung-out sponge. You may have to add water, or cover things up to keep the rain out. If you don’t always get it right, don’t worry, the microherd will forgive you and get right back to work once you add water or dry materials to balance things out.
Your microherd likes to chow down on a combination of ¾ dry brown stuff and ¼ moist green stuff. The exact amounts aren’t critical, and you don’t have to add a combination every time, as long as the balance comes out about right over the weeks.