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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2011

Take extreme approach to composting

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
BLADE GARDEN COLUMNIST

My friend Joni Meyer-Crothers is an extreme couponer and can save hundreds of dollars on her grocery bill every month. She is my hero. I am trying my best to train myself to be as disciplined about my coupons as Joni. She is able to stockpile essential items such as diapers, toothpaste, and a lot of other pantry staples for free and gives them to area shelters. You can see why she's my hero, right?

When it comes to saving big bucks, you have to have good timing. And now is the time to save some big money on your yard by becoming an extreme composter.

Getting started

When Joni sees the Sunday Blade hit her doorstep, she sees cash in the coupons. When I see leaves falling from the trees, I see cash in the huge piles at the curb. Those leaves can become very valuable and all you need to do is toss them in a bag.

Adding a few extra ingredients to the bag of leaves will kick-start a biodegrading process. You will have carbon, nitrogen. and micro-organisims doing their job over the next few months to create some really great food for your soil.

To create a good compost mix that will break down quickly without an offensive odor, you need to have the right ratio of ingredients. You want to have about 30 parts of carbon to one part nitrogen, one part water, and a half of a part of fertilizer.

Brown things like leaves are usually your carbon ingredients. You can also use shredded newspapers, corn stalks, sawdust, straw, wood chips, or pine needles as the carbon source.

Green things usually hold a good source of nitrogen. So you need to add grass clippings, vegetable scraps, yard weeds ,or unique greens like seaweed, alfalfa, or clover. You can even use coffee grounds or manure in your compost as the nitrogen rich ingredient.

Other additives such as egg shells and kitchen scraps are good to mix in. But don't add in anything with meat or a bone. These won't break down and will invite critters into your yard. Toss a layer of soil on top of food scraps when they are added to the pile. This will help the scraps break down quicker and also prevent odor and visitors.

The recipe

Start your extreme composting by filling a large bag with leaves or some of the other brown ingredients. Add in two large handfuls of green grass clippings or other sources of nitrogen. You can also add a scoop full of topsoil to get your compost cooking.

Water is just one small, but important part of the equation so you have to squirt a little water into the bag of leaves and other ingredients. Add just enough water to make it damp like a wet sponge that has been rung out.

A dash of slow-release fertilizer is the last ingredient. This will help put all bacteria into high gear through the winter months.

Tie the bag off and poke some holes in the sides for airflow. Kick the bag around the yard a few times to help stir it up. I like to make a few dozen bags like this and hide them behind the garden shed. Kick them around again in January and they will be filled with gourmet compost by spring. That is when you can toss it on top of your garden and save even more money next spring by cutting your fertilizer bill.

Free tastes good

I just love it when Joni says "Free tastes good!" She is talking about getting away from the brands you always buy and look for the deals because a box of pasta that is free probably tastes even better than one that cost a couple bucks.

The same thing can be said for your garden. When you get in the habit of composting and recycling your own yard waste, the bounty that comes from it makes you even more excited to keep recycling.

If you know an extreme gardener, send me an email.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com.



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