Compost

Backyard Composting

Composting breaks down organic waste from the kitchen, lawn and garden into a soil-like material called humus. It's done by microorganisms that consume the organic material to produce compost.

By composting in your backyard, you can turn your household waste into a valuable soil enhancement that offers many long-term benefits for your garden or lawn. Compost keeps soil loose or porous, helps soil retain water, maintains soil pH and adds nutrients.

You can purchase backyard compost bins at most hardware stores and at the Cochrane Eco Centre or better yet build your own.

1. Choose a convenient, level, well-drained and sunny area in your yard.

2. Start with a layer of finished compost or topsoil. This will provide the microorganisms needed to break down the organic material. There is no need for a chemical compost starter or activator.

3. Alternate layers of dried out "brown" material with moist "green" material. "Greens" (rich in nitrogen), are fresh plant materials such as green grass clippings and fresh kitchen waste. "browns" (rich in carbon), are dry and dead plant materials such as dried leaves, grass, plants and straw. You will need a mixture of both. A working recipe would be 1/3 to 1/2 "greens" to 1/2 to 2/3 "browns" by volume. Add another thin layer of finished compost or topsoil every so often.

4. The pile should be roughly one cubic metre in volume, approximately 1. 5 metres (3. 5 feet) x 1. 5 metres (3. 5 feet).

Aerate: Make sure your pile/bin gets enough air. This is necessary for the survival of the aerobic bacteria that break down the material without generating odours. This can be achieved by mixing in coarse material like leaves or green twigs to create air voids and periodically turning the pile with a pitchfork, shovel or compost turner. Turning the pile once every week or two should be enough. More frequent turning disrupts the composting process.

Water the pile: The pile should be as wet as a wrung out sponge. When you squeeze a handful, no drops of water should come out, but the compost should form a ball. It is most effective to water when you are adding materials or turning the pile. An undisturbed pile tends to shed water rather than absorb it. Without water, the microorganisms will die and decomposition will slow down or stop.

Too much water will also drown the aerobic bacteria and may cause unpleasant odours. To correct this, turn the mixture so that the excess water will either drain off or evaporate. Dry material can also be added to help absorb the water.

A hot compost pile is good: As the microorganisms consume the organic material, heat is produced as a byproduct. If you have a large enough volume of material with a good mix of brown and green material and adequate aeration and moisture, your compost pile will start to heat up on the inside, reaching temperatures as high as 40 to 45 degrees Celsius. This is how you know your composter is working. Compost thermometers are helpful, not essential.

Grasscycling

Grasscycling is simply leaving the clippings on the lawn while mowing your grass. It's an easy and effective way to maintain a healthy lawn while saving yourself the time and effort required to bag the clippings.

Simply leave the grass clippings on your lawn as you mow. As they decompose, they will provide water and nutrients to your lawn.

  • Mow frequently, about every 4 to 5 days during spring/summer. When growth is slower (late summer and fall), cutting once per week or less will suffice.
  • Mow high. Only cut off the top 1/3 of the grass. No more than 1/3 of the grass height should be cut at any one time.
  • Mow only when grass is dry. If grass is too long after prolonged wet weather, start with a higher cut and gradually lower it during successive cuttings.
  • Clumping may result from cutting wet grass or making too long a cut. Mowing the area again from a different direction will help dissipate the clump.

Go bagless! No special equipment required

Use any mower to grasscycle. You can "go bagless" by removing your grass bag!

  • Keep mower blades sharp: sharpening services are often available at retailers
  • Keep your lawn mower blade at a medium to high height setting to avoid over cutting the grass.

Helpful lawn care tips

Grasscycling is part of maintaining a healthy lawn:

  • Rake the lawn during spring yard cleanup to remove dead grass.
  • Aerate the lawn periodically to allow nutrients, air and water to reach the grass roots.

Grasscycling myths….

Myth 1: Grasscycling causes thatch

  • Samples taken from test lawns during an Edmonton pilot showed that proper grasscycling does not contribute to thatch growth.
  • Thatch is composed mainly of roots. Excessive root growth is the primary cause of thatch, not grass clippings. Over-watering and over-fertilizing are the primary causes of thatch as they encourage excessive root growth.
  • Grass clippings are approximately 80-85% water, allowing them to decompose rapidly.

Myth 2: Grasscycling looks untidy

  • Cut properly, clippings are virtually unnoticeable.
  • Grass clippings disappear within 3 days after cutting.
  • It will take slightly longer for clippings to break down later in the growing season as temperatures and moisture content of clippings drop.

Myth 3: Grasscycling spreads lawn disease

  • • No. Watering, fertilization and mower blade sharpness have much more influence on the occurrence of lawn disease than grasscycling.

Myth 4: I have to grasscycle every time

  • You can't always grasscycle. Prolonged wet weather or an infrequent mowing routine are situations where grass clippings should probably be bagged since you'll have large volumes of clippings.
  • It's OK to grasscycle most of the time. It doesn't need to be every time you mow.

Keep your grass clippings! They're an excellent addition to a backyard compost pile. They can also be used as mulch to provide weed control and prevent moisture loss around flowerbeds, trees and shrubs.