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Compost Levels (bottom to top): Leaves, Twigs, Sticks; Green Material; Brown Material; Green Material; Brown Material Spring is here – think composting!!!

With the warmer weather and longer hours of daylight, plant growth is increasing. This increase in vegetation can generate an increase in potential vegetative waste (i.e., grass clippings, shrub trimmings, old leaves, etc.) Now is a good time to think about starting to compost, not only of yard waste, but other organics as well.

What is compost?

Compost is organic material that undergoes controlled biological decomposition, has been sanitized through heat generation and stabilized so that it is beneficial to plant growth. Compost should bear little physical resemblance to the original organic material. Compost is an organic matter source that can improve the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of soils or growing media. It also contains plant nutrients, but is typically not characterized as a fertilizer.

How is compost produced?

Compost is produced through the activity of aerobic (oxygen-requiring) microorganisms. These microbes require oxygen, moisture and food in order to grow and multiply. When these resources are maintained at optimal levels, the natural decomposition process is greatly accelerated. The microbes generate heat, water vapor and carbon dioxide as they transform raw materials into a stable soil conditioner. Active composting is typically characterized by a high-temperature phase that sanitizes the product and allows a high rate of decomposition, followed by a lower temperature phase that allows the product to stabilize while still decomposing at a lower rate.

The benefits of composting

Compost promotes the reuse of organic matter, saves money by reducing need for fertilizer, water, and garden supplies and helps limit potential pollutants. Using compost, improves soil structure, porosity and bulk density. It increases moisture infiltration and permeability of heavy soils by improving drainage and reducing erosion and stormwater runoff. Compost improves the moisture holding capacity of light soils, reducing water loss and nutrient leaching, and has many other benefits.   

Getting started

Although a container is not necessary to compost, you can purchase a container from many suppliers or you can build your own container. Some containers allow for easy removal of finished compost and this could be one reason to obtain a container. Compost can be produced from many feedstocks. There are many variations to composting, but most have a base of bulkier material on which is placed alternate layers of green material (higher in nitrogen) and brown material (higher in carbon). The compost material ideally should have about 50 percent moisture. To determine moisture content, use the squeeze test. Grab a handful of compost. If the handful falls apart, the compost is too dry, if you can squeeze water out, it is too wet. If the compost stays in a ball, it has the correct moisture contact. In addition, turning the compost will help speed the compost process and can prevent the compost from becoming compacted.  

DENR composting

There is a composting bin at the edge of the environmental education garden next to the Archdale Building in Raleigh. Currently, coffee grinds and filters from the Archdale snack bar are placed in the bin. There are also some fruit scraps and well as some yard waste to better maintain compost. The DENR Sustainability Team has received two additional compost bins. These bins are of similar size to the existing bin and will be placed adjacent to the existing bin. This will allow for more composting at the Archdale Building.

Anyone located in the Archdale Building who has an interest in assisting in expanded composting at the Archdale Building, or who has questions, should contact Paul Clark by email at , or by phone at 919 807-6443. In addition, DENR is also investigating different options to compost the organic waste from the Daily Planet CafĂ© at the Science Museum. State and federal regulations exist to ensure that only safe and environmental beneficial composts are marketed. All applicable compost regulations will be applied to DENR’s composting. Please stay tuned for more information on DENR composting. 

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The DENR Sustainability Team is composed of representatives from 27 DENR divisions, offices and programs. Its mission is "to inspire a culture of sustainability within DENR by promoting environmentally responsible actions." More information on DENR Sustainability is available at portal.ncdenr.org/web/sustainability/home
Information on sustainability in buildings and lands in North Carolina is available on the state sustainability team NC Project Green website, www.ncprojectgreen.org.
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