- Author: Heidi Aufdermaur
Have you ever had a hobby that turned into an obsession? One of my hobbies is gardening of course, as a Master Gardener. Not too long ago, I acquired a chipper/shredder. One of my gardener friends had two and sold one of them to me at a fair price. I have always wanted one, dreaming of all the rich mulch I could make with my own waste.
I was excited to use it for the first time, donned the earplugs and safety glasses and got busy. Of course, I had to first collect the yard waste. I started coveting all the potential material that I thought would be suitable to shred or chip. I collected from my yard first, then one morning on the daily walk with my husband and soon after Christmas, I had a new insight for all the Christmas trees that were being discarded on the streets. I commented to my husband about collecting some of them to chip. To my surprise, I came home one day from running errands and found about 6 Christmas trees piled up in our yard. My heart fluttered with excitement. I was worried that adding too many of the pines would change the pH of my soil so I consulted Ed Perry, our former Environmental Horticulture Advisor for Stanislaus County. He said I could compost and chip away, as I was adding other species to the mix and it would take a lot more pine trees to make any difference in the pH of my soil.
I started seeing all the shrubs and trees in our yard that needed a good trim and piled them up to dry for a while. I also added some spent flowers to the pile. What I learned about shredding flowers is to cut off the seed heads (if I didn't want them to germinate where I spread the final product). I learned that after I had shredded some old marigold plants, spread the mulch in a pathway between my vegetable rows, I soon had marigolds sprouting up all over. I transplanted a few, left a few and pulled the rest, adding them to the new pile before they flowered.
I began to explore the surrounding yards in our neighborhood. Leaves and clippings looked like gold to me. My neighbor was extremely happy to let me rake her lawn of all the beautiful leaves that had fallen. To say the least, I have become somewhat obsessed with this new habit of gardening. I am also pleased that I am not adding all this waste to the green can for a trip to the land fill.
Did you know there is an assembly bill (AB341) that requires communities to divert yard waste from landfills and recycle it? With the rapidly depleting landfill capacity in California, 75% of yard waste is to be recycled. This goal was to be achieved by 2020. This bill requires every commercial business, institution, and apartment building to implement recycling programs.
Even though this bill focuses on businesses and large complexes, it's also good practice for homeowners. Keeping your yard waste on site, adding it to a compost pile or breaking it down by running over small portions with a lawn mower, one can keep this valuable commodity in one's own yard. Some benefits of mulch include reducing water loss to evaporation, moderates soil temperature, reduces weed growth thus making weeds easier to manage and reduces dust in drip-irrigated landscapes.
So, if you become obsessed like me, just think of all the good that happens when collecting your yard waste and keeping it on site. Happy Gardening.
- Author: Anne E Schellman
If you've ever felt confused by the process of composting, you are not alone! Most gardeners experience confusion at some point over the following topics:
What can I compost?
- Kitchen: fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, and eggshells.
- Yard waste: grass clippings (except Bermudagrass), leaves, pine needles, and shredded wood chips.
- Rotted manures from non-meat-eating animals are allowed, but not necessary.
What shouldn't I compost?
- Avoid animal products (meat, bones, fish, grease, dairy).
- Ashes from the fireplace or BBQ (can cause pH imbalance in soil).
- Sawdust from treated wood.
- Dirt: this ends up making it heavy and too hard to turn.
- Avoid diseased plants.
- Most weeds.
What are “greens” and “browns” and why does it matter?
Greens are rich with nitrogen, and browns contain carbon. Don't get bogged down by reading about the ratios of how much of each to use. Bottom line? You need to add equal amounts of greens and browns. The easiest way to do this is by using two 5-gallon buckets.
Vegetable & fruit scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and rotted manures.
Dry leaves, straw, sawdust, wood chips, corn stalks, cardboard, and paper.
Make sure all items added to the pile are chopped or shredded to at least 1 ½” in size. Otherwise they won't break down equally. The best size for a pile is 3x3 to 3x5.
For more information including what compost system to choose, which compost method to use, how often to turn your pile, pests, troubleshooting, and a general demystification of the composting process, watch our Composting Basics presentation! You can download the handout on our Classes and Workshops page. https://ucanr.edu/sites/stancountymg/Classes/
- Author: Terry Pellegrini
Composting is a fabulous way to turn your garden waste into garden gold. By taking your dry waste and combining it with your green waste, you can transform it into a rich, usable material to enhance your soil. You can also use it as a mulch around plant beds to reduce weeds and fill your containers and pots without the cost of store-bought soils.
Not only is composting good for your garden, but it is also good for the environment. By composting your garden (and some kitchen) wastes you are conserving precious landfill space, reducing the need for commercial soil conditioners and fertilizers, as well as adding beneficial microbes and nutrients back into the soil. Compost, either added to the soil or used as a mulch, saves on water usage as well.
Turn your compost every day or two (for rapid composting), or once per week. Check to make sure it isn't too wet or too dry (it should feel about as moist as a wrung out sponge) and protect it from the weather (a tarp or covering to keep out intense heat or rain) and in no time you'll have rich, usable compost.
Composting is a science but still, things can go wrong. The number one complaint I've heard from friends is, “My compost always turns out stinky and I give up.” Stinky compost is a sign of an imbalance in your pile. A healthy compost pile should smell earthy and not look wet and slimy. Trust me, stinky compost is a real turn-off. I should know – it's happened to me on occasion. Checking your moisture levels, adding in additional brown materials if needed, and making sure to turn your pile will help with this issue.
Don't let composting scare you. It can be a fun and rewarding way to give back to the environment, save money and water, and enhance your landscape. With a little bit of work, a pile of waste becomes the garden gold we all desire. Still have questions about composting?
Sign up for our Composting Basics class!
When: November 24, 2020 6-7:30 p.m. PST.
Where: on Zoom.
How: http://ucanr.edu/compost/2020 sign up by Nov 24 at 4 p.m. to receive a link sent the morning of the class.
Instructors: Master Gardeners Terry Pellegrini and Heidi Aufdermaur.
And remember, all classes are recorded so you can always watch it again later.
Hope to see you there!
- Author: Anne E Schellman
Question: Can you name a fun way to compost some of your kitchen scraps?
Answer: Vermicomposting, using worms to eat your "garbage!"
Vermicomposting is the process of keeping red wriggler worms in a “hotel” where they eat food scraps and other organic materials like paper and cardboard. Hotels can be simple or fancy, and the materials needed are easy to put together. This odorless hotel can be kept anywhere inside your house, or outdoors if you prefer.
Our local UCCE Stanislaus County Master Gardeners will tell you which foods worms prefer and demonstrate how to create a hotel and feed your worms. You'll go home with information on how to start your own bin.
This class may appeal to the kids in your family, so be sure to bring them along. We hope you will join us for this fun class to learn about this sustainable way of turning waste into compost!
Please sign up for our Thursday, November 14, 2019 class from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at: https://ucanr.edu/sites/stancountymg/Classes/
- Author: Ed Perry
Did you know that fallen leaves can become a valuable garden resource? You can turn these leaves into compost. Although low in essential plant nutrients like nitrogen, the leaves still contain small amounts of all the nutrients plants need and are a valuable source of soil-improving organic matter.
Get started by chopping the leaves into smaller pieces before adding them to the pile. You can use a chipper or a shredder if you have one. Otherwise, run over them with a lawn mower and then mix them into your compost pile. If you have a lot of leaves, you can store them after shredding in garbage bags or containers, then occasionally layer them into your compost pile over the winter to add air to the pile.
Sometimes certain green materials, like grass clippings, become matted in the compost pile. When this happens oxygen is excluded, and the composting process may stop. Adding leaves helps keep the grass clippings fluffed up and aerated.
If you're new to composting, keep in mind that the decomposition process works best if you mix equal volumes of carbon-rich, naturally dry plant material (dead leaves, dried grass, straw, and woody prunings) with nitrogen-rich green plant material (grass clippings, wilted flowers, green prunings, weeds and fruit and vegetable waste). This mixture allows a “carbon to nitrogen” ratio of 30 to 1, which is ideal for efficient compost production. You can produce compost slowly or quickly. Here are two methods:
The Slow Method
Build a pile of organic materials and let it stand for a year, when the compost will finally be ready for use. The advantage of this method is that it takes relatively little effort. However, some nutrients may be leached due to exposure to rainfall, and low composting temperatures may not kill some weed seeds and disease-producing organisms. For more information on this method, download the leaflet Composting is Good for Your Garden and the Environment.
Rapid Composting Method
This process produces compost in as little as 2 to 3 weeks but requires more effort. It allows you to produce large amounts of compost quickly. For more details about this method, you can download the leaflet Compost in a Hurry.
Many local nurseries and the Modesto Junior College offer hands-on composting classes. In the future, our UCCE Master Gardeners plan to offer composting classes. Keep in touch with us by signing up for our blog and following us on Facebook and Twitter @UCMGStanislaus to hear about upcoming classes and workshops.
Ed Perry is the emeritus Environmental Horticultural Advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Stanislaus County.