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University of Illinois Extension

Start Composting this Fall

August 23, 2013

Fall is one of the best times to start a home compost pile. As vegetable and flower gardens reach their peak and start to fade, lawns still need mowing and the fall outdoor cleanup season begins, so there is plenty of good material available to start making compost. Compost helps reduce the volume of such yard wastes and can provide a valuable soil amendment for gardens.

"Green" nitrogen-containing materials, such as grass, and "brown" carbon-containing material, such as dried plants or leaves are essential ingredients for composting. Late summer and fall provide many of those materials, such as fresh vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and dried vegetable and flower plant materials. Shredded paper can also be added to supplement carbon sources.

If properly done, compost should not have an odor and if properly sited, the bins or piles can blend nicely into the garden or yard area. If there is an odor, the most likely cause is the lack of air, which can be remedied by turning the pile more often. Rodents or insects should not be a problem if meaty or fatty food scraps are not used. About a cubic yard, 3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft., can be an ideal size for most home compost bins. It is a good size to accommodate most yard waste materials and is a manageable size for turning and speed of composting. Adequate moisture is also needed for the most efficient composting. Maintain the material's moisture similar to that of a damp sponge.

Commercial bins can be purchased, but homemade bins can also be used effectively. Bins can be made of fencing wire, cement blocks, non-treated scrap lumber, used pallets, bricks or other materials. Actually, composting can be done in a pile without any container, but a more concentrated, contained area helps maintain heating levels and can speed the composting.

Getting started now will help be prepared for later this summer and fall, when even more material such as leaves are available. Then the compost will already be in place for possible use in the garden next year.

For more information on composting and managing yard wastes, contact your local University of Illinois Extension office or visit the Extension website: Composting in the Home Garden at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/compost.

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