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Easy composting this fall
(This article is adapted from the July 2010 ShopSmart Magazine.)

A compost bin is a great way to turn some of your fall leaves and kitchen waste into free fertilizer. When Consumer Reports last rated compost bins, one of the top outdoor picks was the Garden Gourmet. (about $76, plus shipping).

Testing on more compost bins is planned for the future. But in the meantime, you can create your own backyard compost pile for little or no cost. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instructions for doing your own backyard composting. Also the University of Missouri Extension offers some interesting ideas for homemade composters.

If you don’t have enough backyard space for composting, you can do indoor composting and make your own indoor compost bin too. The EPA instructions for indoor bins are simple:

• Place a brick in the bottom of a large plastic garbage can and surround it with wood chips or soil.
• Drill half-inch holes in the bottom and sides of a smaller plastic can and place it on the brick inside the larger can.
• Put a lid on the large can and wrap it with insulation and start composting.

Dump grass clippings, old leaves, and other compostable items like fruit and vegetable peels, into your bin.
Collect leaves by raking them into piles or bagging them with a walk-behind mower or lawn tractor. Using a mower or tractor will reduce leaves to the right size for composting (they’ll decompose faster than whole leaves). Don’t compost black walnut leaves; they emit substances that can harm plants.

Your best compost will come from a mixture that’s 50-75 percent brown materials (dried leaves, old brown grass and old twigs and pruned items) and the rest new green materials (new green leaves, and freshly cut grass).

Wood chips, twigs and branches are good for air space and drainage. Lightly water it if it seems dry.

Occasionally turn the pile with a pitchfork to break up clumps. We found that it took eight to 10 weeks to see fine, dark material that resembles compost, though you still need to wait and additional eight tor nine weeks to use it in your garden.

Want to know if yours is ready? Put a small amount in a pot with radish seeds. If the seeds germinate and grow, the compost is ready to use.

Related links
Cornell Waste Management Institute: Home Composting Fact Sheet

Consumer Reports Complete Lawn & Yard Guide
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