GARDENING: Composting: This is how we do it!

By Sara Moran, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Midland, and Ector Counties

Composting is a natural process that allows microbes to convert yard waste and kitchen scraps to a useful organic soil amendment or mulch. Gardeners have abundant materials that can be used for composting, for example, leaves, branches, grass clippings, rotten fruit, vegetables, eggshells, etc. Composting in the heat can be difficult, but proper management can maintain a successful composting process. Here are some tips to help you compost effectively in the Southwest area:

1. Choose the right location: Select a shaded area for your compost bin or pile. The shade will help prevent excessive drying and maintain a more consistent temperature for the composting materials.

2. Add more greens: In hot weather, compost piles tend to dry out quickly. Add more nitrogen-rich “green” materials, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings, to counteract this. Greens provide essential nutrients that help speed up the composting process.

3. Balance with browns: While adding more greens, make sure to balance them with carbon-rich “brown” materials, such as dried leaves, straw, or shredded newspaper. The carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is crucial for proper composting, and a good mix of greens and browns will help maintain the right balance.

4. Shred or chop materials: Cutting or shredding your compostable materials into smaller pieces increases their surface area, helping them decompose faster; this is especially important during hot weather when microbial activity can slow down due to heat.

5. Turn the pile: Aerating the compost pile helps maintain airflow and prevents the pile from becoming too compacted, encouraging decomposition, and reducing the risk of overheating compost. How often you need to turn the compost pile depends on the composting method you use. We will talk about composting methods in our next article…stay tuned!

6. Keep the pile moist: Water is essential for composting, especially in hot weather when materials can dry out quickly. Regularly check the moisture content of the compost pile and add water as needed to keep it damp but not soggy.

7. Use a compost bin with proper ventilation: If you’re using a compost bin, ensure it has adequate ventilation for proper airflow. Good ventilation helps prevent overheating and promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms. However, too much ventilation might cause moisture loss, and compost will dry out quickly. Sometimes, you might need to seal areas of the compost bin to minimize moisture loss.

8. Cover the compost: Consider using a cover or tarp to shade the compost pile and protect it from direct sunlight. Extra protection will help maintain a more stable temperature and prevent excessive evaporation.

9. Be patient: Composting can slow down during extremely hot weather, but it will still happen. Be patient and follow good composting practices to achieve rich, nutrient-dense compost for your garden. Trust me, patience will pay off.

10. Let it cure: Yes, microbial degradation continues after the compost is finished. Then, letting the compost cure will result in a more chemically stable product. Finished compost will no longer heat up. Compost used as a mulch or top dressing might require a shorter curing time.

As you can see, even in our harsh environment, you can continue composting successfully year-round and produce valuable compost to enrich your garden soil.

If you have questions or want more information, contact your Texas A&M County Extension Office in Midland (432-686-4700) and Ector (432-498-4071) counties. You can also send an email to [email protected]. Happy Gardening!