"snow fencing" compost bin (31834 bytes)

Composting the Colorado Way

By Ardis Hughes, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

All landscapes produce yard wastes from pruning, weeding, lawn mowing and other routine plant care activities. Unthinkingly, many of us used to put these wastes in trash bags and send them to the dump. Today, the groundswell of American opinion in favor of recycling encourages gardeners to be responsible for the wastes produced by their yard.

And yards certainly can produce a lot of wastes. City trash increases by 30 - 50% in summer due to thrown-out grass and other plant prunings. Dumping these plant wastes in landfills takes up space which costs taxpayers money. Home composting changes these wastes into assets.

Composting can be thought of as natural recycling and often requires no more effort than it takes to bag and haul plant clippings to the curb. Forget the bagging but do haul plant wastes to a spot in the yard where they can be piled and left to decompose. Naturally occurring microorganisms take over and do the rest. They reduce the volume of plant wastes by 50 - 75 percent and leave the gardener with compost, one of the best organic materials to mix in and improve garden soil.

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Thermometer checking temperature in above compost bin

Many gardeners may have read composting articles and become discouraged by the seemingly complex process involved. Don't be! One gardener I recently talked to described composting as something that everyone gets right, some just take a little longer at it than others.

While the basics of composting are simple, fine tuning the process to break down plant wastes in a couple months instead of a year can take a while to master, especially in Colorado's environment.

Anyone who gardens in this area soon learns that gardening in Colorado is different. Composting is also different because Colorado's dry air, fluctuating temperatures, winds, and other climate conditions affect microorganisms.

A new Service in Action fact sheet co-produced by Colorado State Cooperative Extension and the Environmental Protection Agency offers an easy way to figure out Colorado composting without the frustration of years of trial and error. Take control of the wastes from your yard. See CSU Fact Sheet 7.212, "Home yard composting".  You, the environment, and your community will all benefit.

Photographs courtesy of Judy Sedbrook, taken at Gove community garden composting demonstration site, 13th Avenue and Colorado Blvd.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010