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International Compost Awareness Week slated May 5-11

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Bringing awareness to the importance of composting is the goal of International Compost Awareness Week. Slated May 5-11, it is a time to shine a light on why people should be composting organic materials and using compost to create healthier soil. This year’s theme is COMPOST … Nature’s Climate Champion.


What is compost? It’s a natural, dark brown, humus-rich material formed from the breakdown of organic materials such as leaves, grass, vegetation, vegetable food scraps and twigs. Bacteria, worms, fungi and insects need water and air to use the organic materials as food and decompose them. 


Why should we compost? One reason is it can help cut down community waste. In Oklahoma, yard trimmings and grass clippings make up about 25% of a community’s waste. The expense of collecting and transporting yard waste, coupled with landfill fees, can take a big bite out of a community’s waste management budget. These costs would be reduced if more people practiced backyard composting. In addition, these materials take up valuable landfill space.


Gardeners miss out on a valuable nutrient resource by not composting yard waste, especially grass clippings. When composting yard waste such as grass, leaves and twigs, bacteria use air and water to break down plant materials into nutrient-rich compost. The compost can be amended into the soil, especially clay soil, and is beneficial to plants and trees in the yard because beneficial bacteria and organisms in compost help plants absorb nutrients. Compost can also be applied as a mulch to retain moisture around plants, used as potting soil and increase the water-holding capacity of sandy soil.


What else can be composted? The kitchen is a great place to find more compost material. Most fruit and vegetable scraps such as the skin from bananas, potatoes, zucchini and yellow squash are good additions to a compost pile. Avoid composting citrus. Crushed egg shells, coffee grounds (including the paper filter) and tea bags (be sure to remove the staple) are also good choices. Avoid dairy products, greasy/fatty foods, bones and pet waste, as well as diseased plants and weeds and vegetables that produce a lot of seeds.


How is compost made? Layer the organic materials by alternating green and brown layers in a bin or simply in a pile. Water and air, along with bacteria and insects, use the materials as food. The bacteria need water to live and grow and this process generates heat. Ideally, a compost container or pile should be between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Aeration is accomplished by turning the pile or container. The more gardeners turn, the more air the bacteria have available, which makes the process work faster. The process is complete when the temperature decreases to ambient levels, even after turning, and the material is dark, crumbles easily, pieces are small, and there is no odor. Depending on the type of compost, climate, size and type of bin and aeration, the process takes four to six months. Shredding or chipping branches helps speed up the process.


Oklahoma State University Extension offers additional composting information online.

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