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International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW) is the first full week of May every year. To help you get started, here are tips for making compost in the Southwest. We will also have a giveaway for a Mantis countertop compost container later in the week – stay tuned for details!
In humid climates, instructions tell you to use two ingredients for compost, but here in the Southwest, there are three! Here we need green, brown and blue components to successfully create compost.
Green ingredients are materials high in nitrogen, like banana peels and melon rinds. Brown materials are high in carbon, like fallen leaves, shredded newspaper or sawdust. Brown is also a shovel full of soil from your yard. It will contain the microorganisms required to do the actual composting. Blue represents the water. Water is essential in the Southwest to keep everything moist so the decomposing microorganisms can survive to break down the brown and green materials.
citrus and melon rinds (citrus rinds contain vegetable oils and are fine.)
coffee grounds and tea bags
noninvasive grass clippings*
vegetable kitchen scraps
shredded paper – junk mail, newspaper, paper towels, etc.
dried leaves – palo verde, pine needles, etc.
sawdust or wood chips
wheat or sorghum straw
Add a shovel full of soil from your yard.
water – keep your compost enclosed and moist
animal products such as meat, dairy, bacon grease (animal oils)
* Bermudagrass in any form (grass clippings, hay, horse manure)
weeds gone to seed
You will need a fully enclosed space. Open compost heaps and compost piles generally fail in the Southwest. Our air lacks humidity, thus materials quickly dry out and stop decomposing. There are numerous fully enclosed compost bin options on the market. If they have air vents, make sure the vents are screened to keep out insect pests. You can build your own bin with cinder blocks or 5-gallon buckets with lids, or simply dig a hole in the ground and compost in it. Just keep the compost covered to prevent evaporation.
Add green and brown components as if you were making a giant lasagna. Add ample moisture, and keep the pile “cooking” by turning the compost with a shovel once a week. This helps mix the components and add necessary oxygen. Add more green and brown in equal portions anytime, and blue as needed. One month before you are going to harvest the compost, stop adding any new material, but continue to keep it moist.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Month-by Month Guide for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico” from which this article is excerpted. You can also purchase the book from the Products Reviews and Resources section of our website.
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