Backyard Recycling 101

Yard debris and kitchen scraps get you on your way to composting, and it doesn't have to be complicated, costly

CORVALLIS — You can start a recycling factory in your own backyard by re-thinking the leaves at your feet and withered tomato plants in the garden as valuable organic materials.

You can put stalks and stems left after harvest, sod, hay, straw and grass clippings to good use (if they haven't been treated with weed killers). Gather them in a pile, add vegetable scraps from the kitchen and you're on your way to making compost that can become fertilizer, soil conditioner and excellent mulch.

Composting does require more work than that, but it doesn't have to be complicated or expensive.

Organic materials will decompose whether you have a fancy bin, container or just a pile on the ground, according to Dan Sullivan, soil scientist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. "Simple piles work well," he said. "Some people prefer containers because they look neater or because it's easier to shield them from marauding pests or pets."

A composting station can be made from old lumber or pallets, mesh fencing or cinder blocks. Some disposal companies offer composting containers free of charge to encourage composting rather than land filling.

For hot (fast) compost, minimum bin size should be at least about half a cubic yard, or about two to three feet wide, two to three feet tall, and three feet deep to retain heat. Sullivan recommends combining two parts bulking agents such as autumn leaves, wood chips, sawdust, hay, wheat straw or corn stalks with one part energy sources such as grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste or non-woody garden trimmings.

Other hints for a hot compost pile:

  • For faster composting, keep the size of the raw materials put into compost to no greater than an inch in diameter.
  • Mix the types of raw materials, rather than layering them.
  • A large pile holds heat better than a small pile. For hot compost, make the initial pile at least a half cubic yard in volume.
  • Keep the pile moist, but not wet.
  • Cover the pile in wet winter weather or dry, hot summer weather.
  • Turn the pile once a week to aerate it, if you wish.
  • Compost ingredients are covered with microorganisms. There is no need to add starters or soil, although some people prefer to use them.

"If you cannot get the pile to heat, it's okay," Sullivan said. "The pile will still break down, but more slowly than hot compost and weed seeds may not all be killed."

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