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Grow your own green monster

A “green monster” is growing out of the door of my compost bin. Guess this makes a good argument that compost is an excellent medium for your garden and plants.

I was out of town and a plant got a good head start. I decided to let it grow as I was curious as to what it is. As it grows out into the yard, I head it around the back of the compost bins to make it easier to mow around.

Compost is the decomposed organic materials that produces fertile, soft dark material. Composting reduces food and other organic wastes, that are not only good for the environment, but provides a rich fertilizer for your garden. I know it’s been an important tool in amending my Ohio clay soil.

Your compost pile can be as simple as a cleared-off spot to a barrel type that spins, making it easy to turn your pile.

We started out with three sides of pallets next to each other, making it easy to transfer from one side to the other to turn your pile. The Green Team held classes at which I purchased the black-lidded bin that I now use.

Turning your pile will keep the internal temperature active as the bacteria starts to die off as the pile dries out and cools. Moving the dry edges to the middle keeps the pile active. Turning also allows you to dig down into center and check your moisture levels. It should feel like a damp sponge.

To test moisture, squeeze a handful. If it’s too wet, water will come out and you need to rake out your pile to allow it to dry and avoid it smelling. If it’s too dry and it will crumble apart, in which case you need to add some water. Turning can be done with a pitchfork, shovel or an aeration tool.

The goal of building your pile is to layer brown (carbon) with green (nitrogen) oxygen and water. Your brown ingredients can include shredded leaves, newspaper, eggshells and straw. Green materials can be grass clippings, aged manure, garden clippings and kitchen waste such as coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps.

The technical process is the carbon is needed for energy as the microbial oxidation of carbon produces “heat” required for the other parts of the composting process. Nitrogen is needed to grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon.

I just know it all breaks down, giving me a wonderful organic material that benefits my gardens.

Materials to avoid would be dog, cat, pig or human waste as they may contain parasites or bacteria that can cause illness. Also avoid meat, bones, poultry, fish, whole eggs or grease, because they create an odor that attracts animals.

You know your compost is done and ready to use when your bottom layer becomes a crumbly dark brown texture and has the look and smell of walking through the leaf litter of a forest. Every year, I shovel out my finished compost and mix it into my garden beds to add natural fertilizer to break up my soil.

I’ve discovered the green monster growing into my yard is a spaghetti squash. I must say it’s growing much better out of my compost bin that it does when I just plant it in my garden.

For a simple description of a compost pile outside, go to http://go.osu.edu/compostoutside.

If you are interested in composting inside your home, go to http://go.osu.edu/compostinside.

Baytos is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

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