Composting Makes Cents

— Written By Bill Hanlin and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

The summer gardens are about done and leaves are starting to drop from trees and bushes. Disposing of this plant material can be difficult because burning is discouraged or illegal in most areas and many landfills will not accept it. The best method of dealing with unwanted plant material is to compost and reap the rewards later on.

Compost_Not_Trash-640x341Composting is a process in which plant material is broken down by microorganisms into a black, earthy smelling material called humus or compost. Compost can be added back to the garden, which will improve soil structure and add nutrients. Plants can be composted by using three different methods that include hot, cold and vermicomposting.

Hot or aerobic composting is probably the most popular method. Leaves, grass clippings and other types of plant material can be composted in a very short period of time. The key to hot composting is to introduce air into the pile by turning it on a regular basis. The biological activity in the pile can heat the pile up to between 110 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat produced also kills many of the disease organisms and insects in the pile.

Cold or anaerobic composting can be also used but it takes a much longer time for plant material to break down using this method. The pile in cold composting is not turned and is more of a fermentation process. One of the drawbacks to cold composting is the disagreeable odor that can be produced.

Vermicomposting uses earthworms to break down plant material into rich, organic matter. Vermicomposting can be done indoors since it does not produce odors and can be done on a relatively small scale. Don’t just go out and dig up any old earthworms though because only earthworms like redworms should be used.

Avoid adding animal products like meat scraps and dairy to any types of composting since they attract pests and can produce bad odors. Each one of these composting types has its advantages and disadvantages, and specific steps must be taken to insure composting success. Composting bins can be purchased or be made out of relatively inexpensive materials. The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service has a very thorough publication on how to compost successfully.