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Composting 101

Ruby de Luna
05/01/2002

Seattle has been a leader in the country when it comes to finding new ways for things we send to the dump. But over the years people have been recycling less. On the other hand, backyard composting is on the rise. If you’ve always thought about composting but were afraid to try, KUOW’s Ruby de Luna turned to a local expert and has this primer.

SPENCER ORMAN IS AN ADVICE GUY. THE TALL, BEARDED EXPERT USUALLY DISPENSES GARDENING TIPS AT SEATTLE’S NATURAL LAWN AND GARDEN HOTLINE. BUT ON THIS DRIZZLY MORNING ORMAN IS OFF PHONE DUTY… So here we are in our backyard composting area, we have a variety of compost bins… AT SEATTLE TILTH’S DEMONSTRATION GARDEN IN WALLINGFORD, ORMAN SHOWS HOW TO MAKE COMPOST. FIRST, COMBINE TWO EQUAL MIXTURES OF GREENS AND BROWNS. THESE ARE YOUR GRASS CLIPPINGS, AUTUMN LEAVES AND TWIGS… Sometimes your materials aren’t as small as your grass clippings. They need to be cut down or broken up. Good rule of thumb is no bigger than your thumb. Oftentimes we need to cut our materials up, and you can take the machete or you could break them up with your hands… THE SMALLER THE MATERIAL, ORMAN EXPLAINS, THE FASTER IT’LL BREAK DOWN. NOW, THERE ARE SOME TYPES OF GREENS THAT SHOULDN’T GO IN THE MIX… PLANTS WITH WAXY LEAVES AND WEEDS LIKE DANDELIONS AND MORNING GLORY. NEXT ADD WATER. ORMAN SAYS MAKE SURE THERE’S ENOUGH MOISTURE… Another good way to look at it or a good analogy is moist as a wrung out sponge. IF THE MIXTURE IS EVER DRY, ORMAN SAYS JUST GIVE IT A NICE WATER SPRAY. THE LAST REQUIREMENT IS AIR. MIX AND TURN THE PILE REGULARLY TO GET THE AIR CIRCULATING. IN TIME, THE CLIPPINGS AND TRIMMINGS WILL BREAK DOWN. HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK? ORMAN OPENS A SECOND BIN AND SHOWS WHAT TO LOOK FOR… What you’ll start to find is the material turning darker brown, darker black. It’s breaking down some of your smaller materials like your grass clippings, and again it’s clean smelling… (Ruby: what does it smell like?) Well, clean smelling is going to smell earthy. If you get there (sniffs) you take a big whiff, you can tell that materials are breaking down and it doesn’t have a sour or off odor. AND IF IT DOESN’T PASS THE SNIFF TEST ORMAN SAYS IT MEANS YOUR PILE ISN’T GETTING ENOUGH AIR. KEEP TURNING THE PILE. YOU COULD ALSO ADD TWIGS AND BRANCHES TO THE MIX. NOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT RODENTS? ORMON SAYS RATS LOOK FOR FOOD AND A WARM, DRY PLACE TO NEST. SO KEEP OUT THE FOOD SCRAPS. AND HERE’S ANOTHER REASON TO KEEP THE COMPOST PILE MOIST... If it’s moist like a wrung out sponge, or even a little wetter than that, they’re not going to be in there. They don’t want to be in that damp wetness. IF YOU MAKE SURE YOUR MATERIALS GET ENOUGH WATER AND AIR, ORMAN SAYS IT COULD TAKE BETWEEN 6 MONTHS AND A YEAR FOR ALL THAT TO BREAK DOWN INTO THE NICE BROWN STUFF THAT PLANTS LOVE. NOW THAT YOU’RE READY TO START YOUR OWN COMPOST, HERE’S ONE MORE INCENTIVE. SEATTLE AND KING COUNTY ARE HAVING A SALE ON YARDWASTE COMPOST BINS THIS SATURDAY AND NEXT WEEKEND. I’M RUBY DE LUNA, KUOW 94.9 PUBLIC RADIO.
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