(News article for November 21, 2020)
Composting is a way to take yard, garden, and kitchen “waste” and turn it into something useful.
It doesn’t have to be all that complicated. You don’t need any one type of structure to do it. In fact, you don’t have to use structure at all - one of our composting fact sheets addresses composting with a “compost mound.” If you want to do vermicomposting (composting with worms), you can even do it indoors.
Composting depends in part on microscopic organisms (bacteria and fungi) to break down organic materials into organic matter that can then be used to enrich garden soil. So, you need to feed those microbes.
In addition to water and oxygen, the microbes need roughly 25 to 30 times as much carbon as nitrogen. So, when we talk about what to put in a compost pile, we talk about carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratios.
“Brown” materials, like fallen leaves, have relatively high C:N ratios. “Green” materials, like fruit and vegetable scraps, have relatively low C:N ratios. You need some of each for composting to occur in a timely manner.
Sometimes, people ONLY put food scraps or ONLY put yard waste in a compost bin. Neither of these situations are ideal. Both can result in a compost pile in which things don’t break down for a long time, since the microorganisms that do the work don’t have what they need.
If you don’t have trees that drop their leaves in the fall, there are other “brown” materials that you can use. You can shred paper or even cardboard. If you do this, you won’t need as much, by weight, as you would of leaves, since paper and cardboard have higher C:N ratios than fallen leaves do.
Turning a compost pile is important for mixing “brown” and “green” materials and for even distribution of moisture and oxygen. If you don’t turn a compost pile, the materials will still decompose eventually, but it will take longer.
For those who would like to learn more about composting, LSU AgCenter extension agents in the Greater New Orleans area are offering a Home Composting Certificate Course that can be completed at your own pace.
The AgCenter also has fact sheets related to composting on our website or available by request, including Backyard Composting: Waste to Resources, Basic Principles of Composting: What is Composting, Troubleshooting Your Compost Pile, and a series of publications in the Backyard Composting series about different types of composting structures or methods, including the following: Cinder Block Bin, Cinder Block Multiple Bin, Compost Mound, Garbage Can Composter, Wire Mesh Bin, Wooden Box Bin, Wood and Wire Three-Bin Turning Unit, and Worm Composting Bin.
Let me know if you have questions.
Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture