Every year, Michiganders throw out thousands of tons of leaves, lawn clippings and other yard waste. As taxpayers, we all pay to have these materials collected and trucked to compost centers. An easy and rewarding alternative is backyard composting.
Backyard composting is the one form of recycling that can be done from start to finish right at home! We've prepared this material to help you get started turning yard and household waste into beneficial nutrients for the soil, while saving money on fertilizers.
By the way, grass clippings are the best lawn fertilizer around, and they're free! Just mow often, and remember to "cut it high, and let it lie."
What is Compost, Anyway?
Compost is a dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling substance made up of partly decomposed organic matter. Decomposition is the natural process by which important nutrients locked inside plants and animals are recycled back into the soil. Good compost is rich in nitrogen and carbon -- two things that plants need to grow strong and healthy.
10 Steps to Better Composting
- Pick a shady, well drained spot in your yard.
- Remove any grass from where you plan to put the composting bin or pile so that microbes, beetles, and earthworms have access. They're the ones doing all the work!
- Set up your compost bin or pile.
- Gather as much of a variety of compost ingredients as you can. Variety is a key to composting success.
- Chop or grind larger compost ingredients. This will speed up the process.
- Build your compost pile in layers. Start with fresh grass clippings, dried leaves, and food scraps. A good rule of measurement is 2 parts grass clippings to 1 part brown leaves.
- Water each layer so that it is "sponge damp" and bury food scraps in the center of the pile so that the neighborhood wildlife isn't tempted to dig in.
- Turn the pile with a garden fork a couple of times a month. This will help keep a perfect composting temperature of between 130 degrees and 160 degrees F.
- Be patient. It takes as little as two weeks, or as long as several months to "cook." The compost will be ready when it is dark brown, crumbly, and earthy-smelling.
- Remove finished compost from the bottom of the bin. Add it to your garden and watch everything grow!
Remember...you can use compost for trees and indoor plants, too. Just be careful not to pile it against tree trunks -- it can rot the bark and kill the tree.
- leaves and twigs
- grass clippings
- non-animal kitchen scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peelings
- coffee grounds and tea leaves
- mulch and wood chips
- wood ashes
- sawdust and shavings
- garden waste and weeds
- shredded paper
- vacuum cleaner bags
Do Not Compost:
- oil or fat
- dairy products
- dog or cat feces
- colored newspapers or magazines
- charcoal ashes
- plants or grass clippings that have been treated with chemicals
- diseased or insect-infected plants
- sawdust from plywood and pressure treated wood
It's as easy as 1-2-3:
- Use finished compost from the bottom of the bin or pile.
- Cultivate the soil around the plants you wish to enrich with compost.
- Spread the compost in a layer 1 to 3 inches thick around the plants.
When Compost Goes Rotten... What's The Problem?
- Foul odor:
The reason could be that there is not enough air, or too much moisture. You can solve this problem by turning the pile and adding dry material if the pile is too wet.
- Center of pile is dry:
Reason could be that there is not enough water. You can solve this problem by moistening and turning the pile.
- Warm and damp only in the middle:
The reason could be that the pile is too small. Solve this problem by adding more materials.
- Pile is damp but won't heat up:
The reason for this might be lack of nitrogen or not enough air. To solve this problem, add grass clippings or other nitrogen sources.
Yard Clippings, Brush, and Tree Stumps
"Yard clippings" refer to leaves, grass clippings, vegetable or other garden debris, shrubbery, or brush or tree trimmings less than 4 feet in length and 2 inches in diameter, that can be converted to compost humus. Yard clippings do not include stumps, agricultural wastes, animal waste, roots, sewage sludge, or garbage.
Do It Yourself
Lawn Maintenance Guidelines - Feed Your Lawn With Grass Clippings
Clippings are composed of 85% water. Short clips quickly decompose, adding valuable nutrients to the soil. With grass recycling, fertilizers can be significantly reduced by 30% or more.
Grass clippings do not cause thatch. Thatch is the layer of living and dead roots and stems growing between the green layer and the soil. Troublesome thatch is typically caused by improper use of lawn chemicals, compacted soils, excessive watering and other factors.
Tips For Grass Recycling
- Set mower blade at the highest setting, leaving grass blades 3" tall, if possible. Tall grass encourages deep roots and also shades out crabgrass and low-growing weeds.
- Remove no more than the top 1/3 of the grass blade.
- Let the short grass blades fall back onto the lawn.
- Use a sharp mower blade. A dull mower blade will tear grass and provide an entry port for diseases.
- Mow when the grass is dry.
- Keep the mower deck clean.
If You Have Extra Clippings...
- Mix grass clippings with leaves and soil to make a backyard compost pile.
- Use clippings as a garden mulch.