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Natural materials include coffee and tea grinds, fruit and vegetable peelings, pine needles, and shredded newspapers—all free organic materials.

For gardeners who compost, we are seeing garbage in another way. Raw materials that were once throw into the garbage bucket or disposal are now designated to the compost bin.

Think about this: if a household discards 50 pounds a week of fruit and vegetables peelings, shredded newspapers, green grass clipping, and dry leaves, that comes to 200 pounds for a four-week month. For a year, that is 2,600 pounds, more than a ton of black gold. And what if 10 families in your community adopted this lifestyle? You have a staggering amount of 26,000 pounds of waste that would never see the landfill. But the greatest advantage is this nutrient rich product would enrich the soil in your flower and vegetable beds. Or, become valuable mulch to amend your soil. In a matter of weeks, you will see the difference in both ornamentals and edibles. Imagine what a difference a few months could make in the soil composition?

If this method is new for you, look at these specific ideas for starting your own compost.

Some gardeners prefer an open bed and others a closed container, requiring plenty of hot sun and water both can be successful. Like in real-estate, location is everything. Is there an area in your yard that receives open sun? Avoid shady areas as the internal temperature of the compost needs to be hot to the touch. In making my compost bed, I found that the internal temperature rose to 110 degrees F on a day when the thermometer reached 60 degrees. In an open bed, start by placing a thick layer of pine needles or dry leaves, which will be the carbon layer. Water generously before adding the next layer. The pine needles or leaves allow air to flow in the pile. Next, add a layer of nitrogen, which are green grass clippings. Water, again. On top of the green grass, empty that kitchen bucket of raw vegetable and fruit peelings, egg shells, coffee, and tea grounds. Never add meat or dairy products as this will attract rodents. Water, well. Follow by a layer of shredded newspaper. Avoid any with color print as the dye can be toxic to plants. A home shredder is a “must” for the home gardener. Cut several sections into about eight-inch widths to feed into a shredder. Do not forget to ask friends and neighbors to save their papers.

Once you have made these layers, cover with a tarp and weigh down with bricks or pieces of scrap lumber. After three days, remove the tarp, lifting and redistributing the compost with a turning fork. Cover again and repeat until the soil is of the desired consistence. Depending on the sun and internal temperature, you will have a supply of nutrient rich compost for both or ornamental and edible plants for your Tennessee garden.

Another method is an enclosed compost bin. Follow the same steps for an open bed. I found the closed container more difficult to rotate the layers with a turning fork. However, a container that can be rocked or rolled would solve this problem. If your yard is small, a compact compost bin is more attractive than a tarp covering a pile. A bin can blend in with your garden, especially if low plants are placed nearby. Keep the holes in the bin open so air can circulate.

Carolyn Tomlin writes gardening articles for numerous magazines and newspapers. Composting and using mulch has become a way of life for this Tennessee gardener. Email: tomlinm@bellsouth.net

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