All Calgarians have been set up for city-wide composting, which is doing a lot to keep valuable organics out of landfills. The City of Calgary Composting Facilityis the largest of its kind in the country. The facility processes about 145,500 metric tons of residential food and yard waste every year through a six-step, two-month process from beginning to end to create the high-quality, nutrient-rich compost that is then sold to landscape soil blenders and compost baggers. The proceeds help keep the program’s cost affordable.
We think the city’s composting program is great, but composting at home is also fantastic. A composting bin costs about $100, and the best part is that you can use the resulting product in your own garden and for your own purposes.
How Composting Works
You can compost yard waste such as grass clippings (let us know if you would like yours placed in your compost bin after we mow), leaves, weeds (before they have gone to seed), fruits and berries from your trees and shrubs, the remnants from pruning your perennials, and your annuals in the fall. You can also compost twigs and small branches, provided they have been cut into small pieces. Otherwise they will take too long to decompose.
Take care to not put anything in your compost bin that has been infected by pests or garden diseases.
Kitchen waste such as fruits, vegetables, tea bags, coffee, and coffee filters can also be composted. It is not recommended to compost food such as cheese, bones, meat, salad dressings, and oils, as they may attract pests and vermin. These items can be put in your green city composting bin.
Anything that is high in nitrogen that you are composting constitutes your “green” waste stream, and should comprise about one-third of your pile. Most of the time, these materials are actually green, such as grass clippings, leftover lettuce, and leaves. However all leftover kitchen scraps that were recently fresh plant materials can be thought of as “green,” even if they aren’t actually that colour. The “brown” waste stream is the rest of your garden refuse – dead grass, twigs, anything that has died – and should comprise the other two thirds of your pile. The “brown” waste contains a lot of bound carbon. Another way to think of it is your “greens” being “wet” and your “browns” being dry. Both components – the nitrogen and the carbon – work to assist tiny microbes in breaking down the material.
Always follow the directions on your comporting bin and make sure to add water and turn it accordingly.
Composting in the winter is possible, although the material will freeze, and most likely did after our extremely frigid February (unless you have a rather large pile, but the limited size of most composting bins will preclude this). This doesn’t harm anything, just stops the process until it warms up enough again. Keep turning regularly until everything has melted, then leave it as directed for the chemical process to begin again.
Using Your Compost
You’ll know your compost is ready to use when it is a dark brown, almost black colour, is nice and crumbly and smells black rich earth. You may notice some small pieces, but this is ok, as long as they are separated out before you use the compost. Otherwise they will continue to break down and potentially distract microbes from doing their work in their new home. Be patient, as the process can take anywhere from two months to two years.
Compost is a wonderful material and is practically free for the labour, as it is made from stuff you would otherwise throw away.
Most gardening experts recommend spreading compost late in the fall or early in the spring, two weeks before you start planting. As most in Calgary wait until after the May long weekend (this year it falls on May 20), which is the safest bet for our climate, you still have a few weeks to try to get your compost ready. If your compost does not seem to be doing anything, or smells funny, it may need some more nitrogen and/or water. Fertilizer with a high concentration of urea from your local garden centre may help.
When we come to perform your spring clean up, let us know if you would like us to start using your compost.
Compost works as a soil conditioner, which allows soil to better retain air and water – both crucial for growth. It also helps your plants fight off pests and diseases.
Compost is great when it is worked into the soil around your trees, shrubs, and perennials, and can also be added to pots of annuals. It can also be used with top dressing and seed to help green up your grass. The only things you really need to remember is that planting anything solely in compost is not a good idea. It needs to be mixed (sparingly) into regular soil to work properly.
Generally a good ratio is one part compost to two parts regular garden soil. For lawns, after aeration or raking, a depth of about a quarter inch to a half inch (then raked into existing soil) should be good. For gardens, a depth of about one to three inches (and then dug into the soil) will also be beneficial.
Composting Made Beautiful and Easy