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Backyard composting is easier than you might think. Compost acts as a multivitamin for your garden, reacting with soil to release plant nutrients. You cut down on the amount of trash you bag and throw away, and your yard waste is recycled instead of picked up by a stranger for transporting, processing and dumping.
Interest in composting has ballooned in the last few years, as more and more online and community resources are made available for people interested in cutting costs and environmental footprints.
The City of Sacramento Department of Utilities hosts Free Backyard Composting Seminars. The next one is March 13 at the Southside Community Garden.
In the meantime, here is an assemblage of resources for readers interested in getting started on a batch of winter compost to maximize spring gardening:
The Department of Utilities offers a free, very readable composting guide on its website. A PDF link provides a 20-page booklet covering composting basics, what to compost, techniques, troubleshooting, vermicomposting (composting with worms) resources and more.
Study up! Next step, acquire a compost bin.
Compost bins can be purchased at a number of places; check Capital Nursery Company or Target. Retail bins usually range from $100 to $150, but the utilities department offers city residents a discount. Complete an online composting quiz and submit it to Sacramento's Solid Waste Services with proof of city residency, and you're qualified for a discounted bin at $65.
For the creative and the frugal, there are all sorts of online resources available to guide you through building your own compost bin for as little as $10 to $15. Blue Grass Gardens provides plans for several sets of bins, including a wood and wire compost bin, wood pallet compost bin and more elaborate compost tumbler.
Plans for wood pallet composting bins seem to be the most popular, as pallets are ubiquitous, easy to work with and often free. If you're interested in building your own wood pallet composting bin, check out Sacramento Craigslist's free listings. Paint and hardware stores often post discarded pallets available for pick-up. (Tip: Sacramento Craigslist often features posts advertising used bins, earth worms and compost. You can also get lucky and find people in the area, usually from ranches in the foothills, offering free compost for pick-up.)
Once you've got your pallets, its time to get to work. Most wood pallet plans involve some combination of wiring and nailing four pallets together, plus a fifth pallet and latches if you're constructing a lid or door. For comprehensive guides including step-by-step instructions with photographs, check out plans provided by Do It Yourself, How To Do Things or Instructables websites.
One day of basic building, and you should have a standing bin ready for composting.
In the bin, combine carbon materials (like fallen leaves and grass clippings) with nitrogen materials (the coffee grinds, old flowers, eggshells and fruits and vegetable scraps you would ormally throw away) in about a 3-to-1 ratio. Composting is a natural process. Decomposing organisms break down your waste, producing a rich batch of garden compost in three to six months.
You can help the decomposition along by providing your pile with the basics: water and air. Your compost pile should be periodically watered (keep it moist, not wet) and aerated (turn and mix with a pitchfork or shovel) for best results.
Information and fellow composters are everywhere. Speak to your neighbors and local garden centers.
Begin familiarizing yourself with composting resources today and enjoy the fruits of your labor in your backyard this spring!