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Composting is Key

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Composting is the natural process that breaks down all kinds of organic materials into rich soil-like material. Finished compost is an excellent soil amendment that improves soil structure as it binds sand, silt and clay particles together. Compost also adds some nutrients although these are mostly tied up in the organic matter so they are available very slowly. Organic materials of all kinds will break down eventually, under the proper environmental conditions. The process is speeded up dramatically with proper management of the organic materials and composting environment. Successful composting requires a proper balance between the carbon materials (organic materials that are usually dry) and the nitrogen components (in the green matter) of the dead plant materials. Ideally this ratio should be about 30:1. If it varies too much from this amount the compost does not break down well or it ties up the nitrogen in the soil. Some common carbon to nitrogen ratios by weight, of various organic materials are: Material C:N ratio Livestock Manure 10-12:1 Table Scraps 15:1 Grass Clippings 20:1 Fruit Wastes 35:1 Leaves 40-80:1 Paper 170:1 Sawdust 511:1 Wood (pine) 723:1 Sawdust has a high C:N ratio, while animal manure has a low C:N ratio. Combining high and low carbon materials, such as dry tree leaves with fresh grass clippings or manure achieves the ideal ratio for composting. Nitrogen is added to high carbon materials by using fertilizer like ammonium sulfate. Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticulturist Utah State University Thanksgiving Point Office

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