How to - Organic Gardening

Composting your Christmas tree

Turn your Christmas tree into garden-friendly goodness with these composting tips

is the planet's natural recycling program. You add materials from around the house that you used to consider garbage, and they will decompose into feasts for worms and microbes and give you rich soil for your garden. By composting, you're using your waste to create more life. You must learn how to compost correctly, or you'll just be creating a toxic dump in your backyard, but composting is not as daunting as it sounds: you're basically throwing stuff in a bin and mixing it with other stuff, rather than tossing it in the garbage can. Composting does take time, though; it will take between six and twelve months for your composter to produce the dark brown, nearly black material that you can add to the soil in the garden.

The holiday season is a great source of composting material. Starting a compost pile in the winter isn't ideal, because compost must be kept dry and because you'll have more grass clippings and other greenery in the spring. But if you already compost, the holidays produce plenty of material that can be returned to the life cycle by being composted.

Decide on a composter
Here are some basics to get you started. The first thing you need is a composter, which you can buy or make yourself. There are many on the market: tumblers, grates, bins, pods, even glorified garbage cans. Research the various types online or at a local garden shop and decide which one suits your needs and space requirements; just be sure it has a lid. You also can make a composter with stakes and chicken wire or recycled wooden pallets. Binding, screwing, or wiring four wooden pallets together to make a box creates an easy, functional composter and keeps the pallets out of the landfill. (A local grocery, furniture, or lumber store, or even a large electronics outlet, may be happy to get rid of its old wood pallets.) My composter is a simple wooden box with slats to allow air to circulate.

Choose a location
The next step is choosing a location for your composter. Use a well-drained, level spot, away from walls or wooden fences. If possible, keep the composter away from trees, too, because their roots will seek the moisture and nutrients in your compost pile. You'll need to set aside four or five square feet or one and a half square meters of space; the more space you have, the easier it is to access it.

Once you have your composter set up, it's imperative that you learn how to use it correctly. First, lay down a base layer of branches and twigs about six inches (15 cm) deep. (You can even use a wooden pallet for the base layer.) This will help air circulate under the material you will add to the composter: proportionate layers of brown and green material.


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