Spring has finally arrived in the mid-Atlantic states (sort of). The timing and weather haven’t worked out for planting flower beds yet. This means that my obsession with spring is focused on composting.
When I started composting, I imagined myself skipping out to the compost bin each day. I had a big bucket full of kitchen scraps that I would turn into black gold in no time. It turns out that it doesn’t work that way. Composting is a science. Like any science, there is a lot of planning, figuring and ingredient hunting involved.
Composting materials fall into two categories: browns and greens. These categories don’t refer to their color, but rather their chemical makeup. Browns are rich in carbon and include things like dried leaves, straw, and egg shells. Greens are rich in nitrogen and include grass clippings, produce scraps, and coffee grounds. The ratio of these ingredients should be in the neighborhood of 30:1, carbon to nitrogen.
It is unlikely that you will have this exact ratio of ingredients on hand when you need them. One solution is to save them until you have the right mix. If you’re impatient like me, you may want to seek out composting ingredients. Below are a few ways to get extra materials from outside sources for your compost pile.
Having little or no leaves fall onto your property in autumn is a blessing to most people. To a composter in need of browns it may be more of a curse. If you fall into this category, try collecting fallen leaves from a public park. If you feel funny doing this, check with friends or relatives. Chances are that they would be more than happy to let you come over and take some of their leaves.
We have an odd triangle of neglected land behind our house. I go over sometimes to collect leaves or pick up fallen branches for the fire pit. Incidentally, wood ash is another good brown to add to the compost pile.
You can often find free newspapers like the Metro in U.S. cities. Grab one whenever you have the opportunity. Read it. Do the crossword puzzle. Then bring it home for your compost bin. Tip: Junk mail and cardboard also make good compost materials in small quantities, but avoid glossy paper.
Brewery by-products such as spent grains and hops are excellent compost materials. They are rich in carbon and break down quickly. Reach out to nearby breweries to see if they will give you some of theirs.
The next time you are in the kitchen at work, check the coffee pot for used coffee grounds. I do this almost every day. No one bothers to empty the old grounds until they are ready to make a new pot. Their loss. Coffee grounds are a great addition to a compost pile. I haven’t checked it out yet, but I’ve heard that Starbucks has a program where they will give customers their used grounds.
Grass clippings are one of my favorite compost ingredients. They heat the pile well. Be sure to layer them or mix them with other materials to prevent clumping. If you need more grass clippings than your own lawn provides, see if your neighbors will give you theirs. Just don’t be surprised if you have to mow their lawn to get them. Tip: Steer clear of grass that has recently been treated with weed killer.
Don’t be shy about asking people or businesses for these materials. Think about what you can use and where you can get it locally. Chances are that it will be a win-win situation. They get rid of unwanted waste and you get compost materials.
If you know of any other places to get compost materials, add them in the comments below. Please subscribe if you would like to receive an email each week when I post about my new obsession.