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"Compost This Newspaper!!!" By Josh Trought, as published in The Pemi Chapter, Audubon Society of New Hampshire

Compost is part of a solution to our current state of pollution. I choose to grow organically because I do not wish to introduce synthetic chemicals into the food, air and water supply. The process of making compost is a sensible alternative to the commercial petroleum based synthetic 10-20-10 fertilizers. Compost builds the health of soil and provides nutrients for plant growth.

Our landfills are overflowing with organic materials that could have been recycled as compost. By creating a compost system we reduce our needs for more landfills and municipal services locally. On a global level, composting is a method to reduce our dependence on distant sources of oil.

There are many possible recipes for making compost. It is similar to creating a soup of leftovers, an artistic expression of organic degradation. The process involves recycling anything that is organic (once living) into a form that serves as plant food. The household is the best source of materials, obviously toxics should be avoided.

The following is a list of possible ingredients; grass clippings, kitchen waste, wood ashes, weeds, leaves, garden residue, pet and human hair, shredded paper, twigs and wood chips, and animal manures.

Here are some exceptions and considerations. Dog, cat and human manure should be treated separately considering disease pathogens. Garden residue should be avoided if pesticides or herbicides had been applied, or if the plants were diseased. Kitchen waste that includes meat must be treated carefully to avoid odor and local scavengers.

The site location and the mixing of the proper ratio of ingredients determines a successful compost pile. Sites should be accessible, convenient to dump the daily kitchen waste. Depending on the scale of the system, it may be appropriate to plan for tractor and trailer to transport material to build the pile. A common system is the three pile method.

The piles can be contained by fencing, this allows the pile to be built vertically and provides air ventilation. The size of the pile is determined by the ability to turn the quantity of material. The freshest material is layered into the first pile. Oxygen, water and biologic factors begin to degrade the material. This process generates heat, this heat spurs microbial activity and kills weed seeds and disease pathogens.

After a period of time, dependent on the type of materials and the ambient temperature, the compost is turned into the second pile. In the second pile the biologic activity builds until a point where it stabilizes and becomes useful for plants. At this point the compost is stored ready for usage in the third pile.

The proper ratio of raw ingredients and water determines the compost process. The ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen is crucial. A ratio of 30:1 is ideal for compost. Materials high in nitrogen like manure and kitchen scraps need a lot of leaves and wood chips to achieve a proper balance. Otherwise, the bacteria are over-stimulated by the available nitrogen, over multiply, and die before they decompose the high carbon material. A properly balanced chemistry is required.

Likewise the right amount of water is essential. A wet pile becomes a stinky anaerobic mess that is difficult to turn, dryness also prevents decomposition. The ideal is damp but not over saturated.

Finished compost material is not recognizable as what it was. Properly prepared, compost is a stable, odorless plant food. We can nourish crops by building the life of the soil. Compost is the alternative to petroleum based synthetic fertilizers that pollute food and water. Households, restaurants, schools, and municipalities can use the simple science of compost to more efficiently use resources.

Josh Trought is a member of the Pemigewasset chapter of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire. He lives, works and practices organic farming at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead www.dacres.org. The Pemigewasset Naturalist is a monthly column by Audubon Society of New Hampshire (ASNH) members on topics relating to wilderness, conservation, and ecology.

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