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Five Steps to Quick Compost

Turn your "trash" into "treasure"! That "treasure" is organic compost, which consists primarily of decaying garden and kitchen waste materials. Organic compost, when added to your garden bed, releases much needed plant nutrients, especially nitrogen, to your soil. Composts also help reduce crusting of soil surfaces, improves soil aeration, aids water infiltration and eases plant root penetration.

Traditionally, backyard gardeners waited up to a year for a compost pile to "cook". Now, organic compost can be yours in as little as two weeks, utilizing the "Rapid Composting" method developed by Dr. Bob Raabe, Professor of Plant Pathology at U.C. Berkeley. Here's how:

1. Make the pile big. To build up the necessary amount of heat (160 degrees) in the pile, start the pile full, in bins, at least 36" x 36" x 36". Use two or more covered bins with removable slats in the front to ease the turning process.

2. Mix in equal volumes. Use a 50-50 mix of green plant material (dried grass clippings, old flowers, green prunings, weeds, fruit and vegetable wastes) and dried plant material (dead leaves, straw, cut-up twigs and branches, finely shredded newspapers, paper bags and cardboard boxes). DO NOT ADD: fireplace ashes, manure from meat-eating animals or soil.

3. Keep the ingredients small. Chop, cut or grind material for the pile down to between one-half inch and one-and-a-half inches in size.

4. Keep the pile moist, but not soggy. If it's too wet, it will smell; if it's too dry, decomposition will be very slow. An ammonia odor may also indicate that there's an imbalanced mix of ingredients. In that case, add sawdust at the site of the odor. If, despite adequate moisture, decomposition is still moving along too slowly (not reaching high temperatures within 48 hours), add grass clippings or fresh chicken manure. A pleasant odor and the emission of heat indicate a properly working, rapidily composting pile of organic matter.

5. Turn the pile. Turn the inside of the pile to the outside on a daily basis (for usable compost in two weeks) or every other day (for compost in three weeks).

Your compost is ready to use when the pile has become somewhat smaller and the color of the material is dark brown.

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