Composting Guide for Colorado

With all the leaf raking going on, now may be a good time to consider building a compost pile.  Use all those dry leaves and turn them into black gold for your garden beds.  However, this process will not happen by itself.  It requires the right ingredients, blended together in the proper balance for this scientific process to take place.  And it will require your time and attention to make sure all this is happening as prescribed.  Follow the outline below to learn about the basics.  If you have questions, stop by Creek Side and consult with one of our Green Team Gardening Experts!

Benefits of Composting

Composting yard waste recycles nutrients back into the yard and saves landfill space

Compost can be used as a soil amendment and mulch

Composting Materials

Recycle yard and kitchen waste

Brown materials contain less Nitrogen – Dry leaves, straw, small woody twigs, shredded newspaper, coffee filters, tea bags, saw dust

Green materials contain more Nitrogen – vegetable & flower parts, lawn clippings, weeds, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds

Avoid animal waste – attracts pests

Making Compost

Alternate layers of shredded plant materials in 6-8” layers

Use 3 times as much dry/ brown materials than wet/green materials for each layer

Shred the materials into a medium size pile – too large is slow to compost, too fine causes matting

Include small amounts of soil in one of the layers to provide beneficial microbes in inoculate the compost

Add water to the compost after every series of layers

A small amount of nitrogen fertilizer like blood meal or lawn fertilizer may be added

Requirements of Composting

The breakdown of organic waste is a biological process dependent upon microorganism activity

Microbes require favorable balance of temperatures, moisture, oxygen and nutrients to do their job

Plant digesting microbes operate in a temperature range of 70 to 140 degrees

Add moisture regularly to maintain composting – damp but not soggy

Plant particle size affects aeration – large pieces decompose slowly, small pieces restrict air flow

Turn over the compost pile regularly to provide additional aeration and distribute microbes

Nitrogen is most important food source for microbes

Brown/ dry material contains little nitrogen, Green material contains more nitrogen

3 parts of brown to 1 part green gives the best balance

Add high nitrogen fertilizer when green materials scarce

Compost Maintenance

If compost well maintained will be ready in 4-6 months in Colorado summer conditions

Proper moisture and oxygen levels most important

Water consistently to keep compost moist

Turn entire mass to provide uniform aeration

Small amounts of fresh materials may be added

If enough material is available begin new pile rather than adding to established pile

Compost Locations and Structures

Partial shade is best

Protect from drying winds

Structures very helpful – can be built or purchased

Covering with plastic holds in moisture

Minimum amount of material required to build up heat – 36” x 36” x 36”

Plastic or wood structures may be smaller

Wooden 3 bin system works well for turning pile