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Recycling Nature

Turn Yard Waste into Compost-Rich Soil this Spring

Many are intimidated to begin composting at home, but State of Texas Master Composter Erin Hoffer says composting is simply another form of recycling.

“When we compost at home, we replicate nature’s cycle by taking what many people consider a waste product and turning it into a nutrient-rich soil amendment,” she says. “Compost-rich soil retains water and helps us to turn our landscapes into passive rainwater capture systems.”

Erin says compost also helps foster healthy plants. “Healthy plants start with healthy soil, and healthy soil contains lots of compost that we can create ourselves.” Erin suggests individuals begin with composting yard waste before moving to food waste, which requires much more knowledge and education.

Four Tips for Composting Yard Waste

1. Feed your soil and feed your plants a healthy dose of compost every year. Apply 1 to 2 inches of finished compost to all of your landscape every spring — trees, shrubs, turf, perennials and even container plants.

2. Support “global worming” by starting an outdoor, in-ground vermicomposting bin. “Worm poop is a powerful soil builder,” Erin says.

3. First brew, then strew your used coffee grounds around landscape plants. They are a free nitrogen source for the plants, add organic matter to the soil, and the garden worms will appreciate the grit.

4. Remember to mow-and-go. Use your mower to chop grass clippings and dried leaves into tiny pieces that will break down right on top of your lawn and feed your soil.

Start With Grass and Leaf Cycling

Erin says the most energy-efficient forms of composting are grass and leaf cycling, which means simply running the lawnmower over grass and leaves and allowing the clippings to decompose naturally. “Fresh clippings contain water and nitrogen, which, when released through decomposition, nourish the lawn,” she says.

Create a Habitat for Microbes

“When I talk with kids, we talk about creating a habitat for microbes who are our gardening partners and who will do all of the work breaking down the materials – but only if we build them a home that meets their needs.” To put it simply, Erin says she teaches children, “brown, green, blue, white – that’s the way to build it right.” Mix brown carbon sources, like dried leaves, and green nitrogen sources, like fresh grass clippings, into blue water and white air. Turn the pile weekly for four weeks and then twice monthly after that. “By the time eight to 12 weeks have elapsed, there should be a fair amount of dark, rich, crumbly material ready for harvest.”

Once individuals have perfected their yard composting skills, they may wish to move to food composting. The State of Texas Master Composter program offers training courses for individuals seeking to learn more about composting. Be on the lookout for upcoming courses in and around the area.

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