Colorado Master Gardeners: Composting in the Yampa Valley
Compost: to rot your unused organic material in a way that it can be used as a compliment and amendment to existing soil.
Composting in rural Colorado — a region robust with wildlife and challenged by severe weather — can be tricky, but it can be done. And it should be. Composting is a very important factor in the sustainability of our existence, as it both reduces our waste and impact on the environment and improves our depleted soil, which, in turn, improves our environment.
The how is the challenge, but it’s easier than you might think. Compost is a natural process of organic decomposition, and if done right, it will not attract wildlife or pests, will not be affected by weather and will provide you with an amazing, free amendment for your soil.
Items you will need include the following.
• A bin: This can be purchased or homemade, but should be no larger than one cubic yard.
• A starter pile: This should include two parts woody or brown material (dried leaves, sticks, straw, etc) and one part organic or green material (grass, kitchen scraps, etc).
• Water: Keep the pile moist but not sopping wet.
• A pitchfork: If you use a homemade box, you’ll need to turn the pile frequently, as the decomposition process needs oxygen to break down more quickly. Some purchased bins, such as tumblers, will turn themselves.
• Patience: It can take six to 12 months until your pile is a rich, dark soil material.
To keep animals away and grow soil that’s safe for your vegetables, do not add meat products (meat, bones, broth), dairy, oils, human or animal waste products (feces) or any “compostable” materials, such as compostable cups, paper products or “cornware.”
Your compost should not smell bad. If you begin to notice an odor, add more brown material and turn the pile more often. You also should not have bugs (flies, fruit flies, etc). If you do, reduce your acidic material (citrus fruits) or cover your pile with plastic. Covering also will increase the heat in the pile and encourage more rapid decomposition.
Worms make great dirt. Vermiculture is another technique that can be used to make a soil amendment, and worms can be added to your compost pile to speed up the process. Alternatively, you can try vermicomposting in an additional bin.
The timing of adding to your compost pile is up to you, but know that very little decomposition will take place through the winter months. You can continue to compost food scraps, but bury them with material from a brown pile to avoid non-hibernating animal tampering. A collection of fall leaves is great for a brown pile. You will not be able to, or need to, turn your frozen pile in the winter, but as soon as it’s warm enough, begin to turn it.
When the compost is ready (crumbly texture and earthy smell), add it liberally to last year’s soil in your garden, pots, lawn, trees and shrubs. It also is good for indoor plants.
Finally, for those who can’t compost due to limited space, Twin Enviro Services offers a residential composting program with front-step pickup.
Andy Kennedy has a history with dirt, first learning the methods of composting in the mid- ’90s during a sustainability internship at Lost Valley Educational Center in Oregon, then through her tenure as zero waste coordinator and program director for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council from 2010 to 2016. She graduated from the CSU Master Gardener program in 2015, and her family composts with both her own backyard pile and the Twin Enviro Services’ residential compost program.
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