Composting

Karen Cambre, Sharpe, Kenneth W.  |  3/2/2018 4:11:09 PM

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News Article for December 25, 2017:

The holiday season comes with a lot of eating. Not just ordinary food either, special treats that you only see once or twice a year, family recipes that are very enticing.

Sure you could join the thrones of Americans and get a gym membership, but the great outdoors affords a lot of opportunity for exercise this time of year.

Leaves are falling with each passing front and soon it will be necessary to figure out what to do with leaves again. We have raked and bagged them, mulched them with the lawnmower, waited for winds to blow them away and even set them on fire.

Leaves can be a valuable resource. They can be used to mulch your vegetable garden and flower beds to prevent weeds and retain moisture, but even better is to compost leaves. Composting is a naturally occurring process whereby bacteria breakdown organic matter to recycle the nutrients and leave you with a great soil amendment. The result is a dark soil that we call humus. Humus is the same rich soil layer you find under the leaf litter in a hardwood forest.

Your holiday workout can start with building a compost pile and end with raking leaves and putting them in the compost pile or bin.

I like to use reclaimed materials for this recycling project.The objective is to provide a structure to keep the leaves in the pile. Just make sure to allow for air to flow through the pile. The compost bin can be just about any shape that you want round, rectangular, square, triangle or any shape in between. I have seen successful piles made from wire such as concrete reinforcement wire, hog and cattle panels rolled into a circle and all sorts of net wire. Using scraps of wooden slats, reclaimed bricks and cement blocks work well. You can even make a loose pile without any barriers to hold the leaves in place, but initially they have a tendency to blow around too much for me. I have also seen compost bins you can purchase, but most of those are pretty small particularly if you have very many trees.

Leave an open end in your bin for loading organic matter and removing the final product when composted.

Once you have built your structure it is time to load it up. You can compost more than just leaves. You can add grass clipping, sawdust, landscape clippings, etc. Put the organic layer in first. Make the organic layer 8 inches deep. If you have dry leaves, moisten them with water to make them damp but do not soak them.

Now sprinkle fertilizer over the pile to feed the bacteria. Use 1 cup of 13-13-13 fertilizer per 25 square feet of surface area. It is the bacteria that will breakdown the organic matter.

For a source of bacteria you can add a one inch layer of garden soil to inoculate the pile.

Repeat the same layering process until you get the pile as high as you need but cap your height at 5-6 feet.

To speed up the composting process, turn or mix the pile to increase aeration. During the warmer months use a garden fork or pitch fork to mix the pile every week or two initially and then once a month. In the cooler months turning is not necessary. Turn the pile anytime you smell a strong ammonia odor or any other offensive odor.

When the pile is finished it will be about half its original size. The finished product will be a dark brown or black soil with a distinct earthy smell.

The length of the process is dependent on the materials you are composting. The greener the material the faster it composts. For leaves, mowing or chopping first will decrease you time.

For more information on these or related topics contact Kenny at 225-686-3020 or visit our website at www.lsuagcenter.com/livingston.

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