Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Composting Problems Solved!

Composting is an easy way to create a usable garden amendment.  There are different methods of composting, different types of bins, and of course, different problems that can occur in your compost pile.  The good thing is that most of the problems that occur during composting are easy to fix.

Here are some common problems and their solutions.
  1. My compost pile smells!
  2. If your compost pile has an odor, it could be that the pile is too wet, it needs oxygen, or that there is too much nitrogen in the pile. 

    To solve the odor issue if your pile is too wet, add dry brown materials such as dry oak leaves, sawdust, or shredded paper.  Mix these materials into your pile to help absorb some of the excess moisture.  An open pile may be more susceptible to this problem as it is not covered.  If you have an open pile that is getting too wet, consider covering it with a tarp.  
    The smell may also be coming from excess nitrogen in your pile.  The pile will not heat up and break down (or stop smelling) until to fix this issue.  Again, the solution is to add some brown materials to your pile and mix them all together. 
         If your pile seems to be inactive and there is an odor, it may be caused from a lack  
         of oxygen.  The aerobic bacteria that help break down the pile quickly cannot survive if
         there is no oxygen in your pile, so you compost will just be sitting there like a lump. 
         Mix your pile to add oxygen.  After you mix your pile, it should start to heat up again
         and begin to break down.
  1. My compost pile is not breaking down!
  2. There may be too much brown material in your compost pile if it is not breaking down.  Brown materials (such as dry leaves) can be slow to break down if there is no nitrogen (green materials) to help with this process.  Add more nitrogen-rich materials and mix your pile.  This should help it heat up and break down more quickly.
  1. My compost pile is too wet!
    It is possible for your compost pile to have multiple problems at the same time.  So if your compost pile is too wet, it may also have an odor.  Just like in the “my compost smells” scenario, you treat a wet compost pile by adding dry materials and mixing them into the pile.       
  2. My compost pile is too dry!
    If your compost pile is too dry, add water to it.  If the pile is large and very dry, you may need to wet it in batches.  Then you can add the batches back to the pile.  Remember, it is recommended that the moisture should be like a rung-out sponge, so don’t get over excited with the water.  As soon as you add the appropriate moisture back to the pile it should start to break down again.  The appropriate bacteria will be able to thrive and compost your pile.  If the pile seems to not heat up and start breaking down, you may also need to add some nitrogen-rich materials such as manure, kitchen scraps or coffee grounds to the pile.
  3. Why are there bugs in my compost pile?
  4. Insects are always present in the compost pile.  They help break down and mix the materials in the pile.  But there are some insects that should not be in the pile.  Ants, earwigs, pill bugs and sow bugs can be banished from the pile simply by mixing.  Although these insects don’t harm the compost pile, they can cause problems later when you add compost to your garden beds.
Remember that it is always possible that multiple things are contributing to the problems in your pile.  It is important that you are familiar with your compost pile and you know what you put into it so that it is easy to solve problems.  For more information on composting go to http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and search for composting.  You can also contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service for advice and assistance with your compost pile. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day! It's a Great Time to Start Composting!

Do you currently compost?  Earth Day is a great time to start!

What do you do with your orange and banana peels, coffee grounds and egg shells?  Did you know you can create a wonderful soil amendment while at the same time reducing the amount of trash you send to the landfill?  By composting these items you can reduce waste and create a free soil supplement (your plants will thank you)!

What can you compost?

Coffee grounds & filters
Tea bags
Fruit and vegetable scraps
Plant debris & yard waste
Shredded paper
Manure (bird, cow, worm)
NO oils, meats or dairy
And more!
Your compost pile requires five basic elements to work.  They include adequate moisture (adding water with a hose or bucket to your pile), aeration and oxygen (turning the pile), pile temperature (not so important if you aren’t in a hurry for finished compost), particle size (less than two inches so that the material can break down quickly) and carbon to nitrogen ratio.  The carbon to nitrogen ratio often seems confusing, but if you are adding a “brown” (high carbon material like leaves, branches or paper) add a “green” (high nitrogen material like grass clippings, fruit waste or coffee grounds) to the pile as well. 

Mixing compostable materials together is easy in a compost bin.  Choose a bin that works for you and place it in an easy-to-access part of your yard.  Keep a water source nearby (rain barrels work great) and mixing tools as well.   Store your kitchen scraps indoors in a bucket and add them to the bin as needed.  Composting is easy and fun!  Get the family involved and watch your curbside trash shrink!  Practicing the “art of composting” is rewarding to both the environment and to your landscape.  To learn more about composting contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Get on the monthly list for Extension Spotlight

If you are interested in receiving the Extension Spotlight on a monthly basis directly to your email, there is now a way for you to sign up!  Please go to the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service website and type your email address into the box on the right under "Sign up for our email newsletter".   The Extension Spotlight is a great way to keep up with all the programs at the Polk County Extension Service and learn more about how we can help you!