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Since You Asked: Compost this newspaper

I work with a lot of gardeners (most of whom are inside reading Homelife this week) who often wonder whether the pages of the Mail Tribune are safe to use in home composting, as mulch in vegetable gardens, or as bedding for vermiculture. Are the inks you use guaranteed safe (soy-based inks or similar)? What about the slick advertising inserts?

— Bob R., via e-mail

As many of our most strident critics would be happy to inform you, the Mail Tribune is entirely suitable for your compost pile and other garden uses, though we encourage you to read it first. We've heard some sections decompose quicker than others.

Because we can vouch for the soy-based inks and newsprint we use in-house, the regular paper should compost just fine as the "brown" half of your compost mix (like fallen leaves). But those inserts in the paper come from a variety of sources and use a variety of paper types and inks, some of which may not be OK for the garden. So just to be on the safe side, just use the news sections and Tempo and recycle the rest. Tear it into strips so it mixes well ... throwing stacks of papers into the pile won't do anything but smother your compost's "fire" and make a destination resort for earwigs.

Here's a great tip — instead of laying down that horrid black plastic (which strangles the soil by cutting off air) or expensive landscape fabric, lay down layers of newspaper and cover with mulch (spraying the paper with a hose after laying it down helps keep it from blowing away while you work). It makes an excellent weed barrier and moisture holder that will eventually become organic matter to build up your soil.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. The volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.