Need assistance? Contact our Sustainability Specialist, Neal Denton, at (505) 992-9832 or [bot protected email address].
Composting is 'recycling' organic materials such as lawn clippings, vegetable scraps, leaves and other wastes into a rich soil amendment that can be used to benefit the environment.
Why compost ?
How do I start composting?
Find a good place for a 3'x3'x3' compost pile. Both shaded and sunny areas are acceptable locations, however, always cover the pile with a carpet scrap or a large plastic garbage bag to seal in moisture. The reason for most compost failures in New Mexico is that they are too dry. A nearby water source (faucet or garden hose) is a good idea to ensure your pile stays moist.
Hint: Top off your kitchen scraps container with water each time you take it to the compost pile.
What do I put in the compost pile?
Your compost pile will need a balance of high nitrogen materials (AKA "greens") and high carbon materials (AKA "browns").
"Greens" are your vegetable scraps, fruit wastes, coffee grounds, livestock manure (except pig), rabbit manure, garden plants (including weeds*), etc.
"Browns" are leaves, tree clippings (shredded), grass clippings, paper, paper towels, etc.
Do not add these: Meat, bones, diseased plants, fat, oils, pet manure (cat or dog), milk or cheese (dairy products), **wood ashes.
* If you are concerned about weed seeds, place the weeds in a black plastic bag in the sun for a day or two. The high temperature will kill the seeds. Composting will also decompose most weed seeds.
** Wood ashes are alkaline and increase the alkalinity of our already too alkaline soils.
Will I need any special tools?
For a compost pile, a shovel or a pitchfork are the only tools needed! Gloves, and a composting thermometer are nice options as well.
For vermicomposting, some sort of bin and worms will also be necessary (see below for more specifics about vermicomposting)
Some basic rules:
Turn the pile approximately every 2-3 weeks to speed up the breakdown of materials. When building, turning or transferring compost to a new bin, wet each successive layer (approximately every 6” layer). This ensures that the compost is also moist in the center of the pile. Squeeze compost in your hand to judge moisture content. If the material feels like a damp sponge, its moisture content is sufficient.
I know the materials in my pile will be mixed up eventually, but how do I add them at first?
How do I troubleshoot if things are not perfect?
|The compost has a bad odor.||Not enough air, excess moisture, and/or too compacted||Turn pile. Add dry material like leaves and wood chips if the pile is too wet.|
|The center is dry. (very common in New Mexico)||Not enough water||Water each layer as you turn the pile. Cover pile with carpet scrap, plastic sheet, etc.|
|Low pile temperature.||Pile is too small (less than 3’x3’x3’), or pile does not have correct ratio of nitrogens to carbons||Collect more materials & mix the new with the old. Insulate sides.|
|The heap is damp and sweet smelling, but doesn’t heat up.*||Lack of nitrogen.||Add fresh grass clippings, manure, food scraps or nitrogen fertilizer.|
|The heap smells like ammonia.||Too much grass or other high nitrogen material.||Turn to aerate, add dry leaves or wood chips.|
|Pests in the pile.||Rotting food wastes attract pests.||Dig hole and bury new food waste deeper in compost pile. Turn pile more often.|
*Heat generation is not necessary, especially if you are using redworms.
Easy materials to use for constructing your bin (if you choose not to buy a commercial bin):
What is vermicomposting?
Adding compost “Redworms” speeds up the compost process about 2 times and requires less turning of the pile. (“Redworms” are generally not the variety sold for fishing, however they are inexpensive and readily available.)
How long before I’ll have compost?
Frequently turning your compost pile and keeping it at the correct moisture point, can yield finished compost in several weeks. Piles turned less frequently may take as long as a year to produce finished compost, so get some exercise and turn your pile.
What does compost look like when it’s ready?
Finished compost usually settles toward the bottom of the pile and resembles a dark, rich, sweet smelling soil. Separate compost from the rest of the coarse material with a screen. Unfinished compost can be returned to the pile to finish.
How do I apply my compost?
Till in or top dress approximately 1” of the compost around garden or landscaping plants, bushes or trees. Apply as far out as the stems or branches extend. You can also mix it in with your house plant potting soils.
Have more questions?
Contact Neal Denton, Sustainability Specialist, at (505) 992-9832 or [bot protected email address].