Thinking about living a little greener at your home in the Hill Country? Composting is a great way to recycle some of the materials you’re getting rid of anyway and put them to good use.
“Anything that was once living will decompose,” said RecycleWorks. “Basically, backyard composting is an acceleration of the same process nature uses. By composting your organic waste, you are returning nutrients back into the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue. Finished compost looks like soil–dark brown, crumbly and smells like a forest floor.”
If you’re ready to “take the plunge,” as Rodale’s Organic Life calls it, the publication that’s “dedicated to living naturally in the modern world” has some tips for how to start a compost pile on your Hill Country land.
What you need to start
"1. Carbon-rich “brown” materials, such as fall leaves, straw, dead flowers from your garden, and shredded newspaper.
2. Nitrogen-rich “green” materials, such as grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste (vegetable peelings and fruit rinds, but no meat scraps), or barnyard animal manure (even though its color is usually brown, manure is full of nitrogen like the other “green” stuff). Do not use manure from carnivores, such as cats or dogs.
3. A shovelful or two of garden soil.
4. A site that’s at least 3 feet long by 3 feet wide.”
Now that you have your materials together and the right spot to start your compost, it’s time to…
"1. Start by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of coarse, dry brown stuff, like straw or cornstalks or leaves, where you want to build the pile.
2. Top that with several inches of green stuff.
3. Add a thin layer of soil.
4. Add a layer of brown stuff.
5. Moisten the three layers.”
Once your pile is three feet tall, switch to a ratio of “three parts brown to one part green,” they said. Three feet is the magic number—you want to achieve a pile that is three feet tall and three feet wide because “a pile this size will have enough mass to decompose without a bin.” You may also choose to use a bin if you want the pile to stay nice and neat.
Once you have the ideal size compost pile, it’s all about maintaining it.
“Every couple of weeks, use a garden fork or shovel to turn the pile, moving the stuff at the center of the pile to the outside and working the stuff on the outside to the center of the pile,” they said. “Keep the pile moist, but not soggy. When you first turn the pile, you may see steam rising from it. This is a sign that the pile is heating up as a result of the materials in it decomposing. If you turn the pile every couple of weeks and keep it moist, you will begin to see earthworms throughout the pile and the center of the pile will turn into black, crumbly, sweet-smelling “black gold.’ When you have enough finished compost in the pile to use in your garden, shovel out the finished compost and start your next pile with any material that hadn’t fully decomposed in the previous one.”
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