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How to build a compost heap Add to ...

You could put those apple cores and teabags in the kitchen garbage and send them to a landfill - but why do that when there's a greener (and less guilt-inducing) option? Building a compost heap in your backyard is simpler than you think. Not only does it help you cut down your volume of household waste, the nutrient-rich byproduct it produces can be used to improve plant growth in your garden. Here's how to get started:

How layering raw materials (organic matter, minerals and water) produces compost

Micro-organisms (found in soil and old compost) require oxygen (which they get when you turn the pile) and water to survive. They also love to eat the carbon-rich material in the pile, and use the nitrogen-rich material for population growth. As they decompose the material, they produce heat, water, carbon dioxide and humus (organic matter than cannot break down any further). After the organisms have worked through most of the waste, the process slows and the temperature of the pile drops.

The layering process: Balancing nitrogen and carbon

Alternate thin layers of carbon-rich brown material and nitrogen-rich green material in your compost pile with some soil and water in between. The microorganisms in the heap draw energy from the carbon and use the nitrogen to produce protein. The more finely chopped the material, the faster it will decompose. Turn the pile three times a month to allow air into the mixture, which will also speed up the process.

Put it in/Keep it out

Put it in: vegetable cuttings, table scraps, eggshells, leaves, cut grass, coffee grounds, tea bags.

Leave it out: pet litter, weeds, diseased plants, meat/fish/fowl, bones, dairy products, oil

*And don't do this

Put in too many grass clippings, which can form ammonia gas - unless you want your yard to smell bad.

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