Backyard composting is an easy way to help the environment and improve your garden.

One of the goals of the Newark Sustainability Plan is to increase backyard composting. Backyard composting will decrease the amount of solid waste sent to the landfill.

What is composting? It is the process of decomposing organic material, and the end product is compost.

What can be composted? Vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, leftover vegetables, grass clippings, plant debris, dried leaves, twigs, coffee grounds and tea bags are some of the items that can be composted. Do not compost meat products, fish, foods containing milk or eggs, diseased plant material or any plastics. Some tea bags are plastic and will not compost, and also the plastic labels on fruits and vegetables should be removed before placing the peels in the compost pile.

How to start? It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to get started. First is collecting the kitchen scraps. There are all sorts of containers for purchase, but any covered container will work to hold the scraps until you are ready to go out to bury them. Next is finding a place in the yard. It can be as simple as digging a hole, burying the kitchen scraps, covering it and letting nature do its work and then finding a new place the next time. This is a little harder if the ground is frozen.

Another method is to create a compost pile. Add the food scraps, cover with soil, add any yard waste and start to layer the pile. Digging holes in this pile for the kitchen scraps will help to mix the compost pile. The compost pile only has to be as big as you want it to be. Everything will decompose eventually. Cutting twigs and branches into smaller pieces will help them decompose quicker. Compost needs air to breathe, and the most effective way is to mix the contents.

Compost also needs to be moist. It will take longer for things to decompose if it is dry, but eventually it will decompose. A compost pile should not have an odor. It should smell earthy.

Commercial compost bins can be purchased or there are many patterns to make compost collection bins out of wood, wire or even a garbage can with holes drilled in it.

Why should someone compost? Compost improves the soil. Delaware has a very clay-like soil, and compost mixed in with soil breaks apart the tight structure of clay-like soil, so plants can grow easier. Soil mixed with compost is more absorbent, so there is less run off. Water is also saved because less is used in running the garbage disposal. The organisms in compost promote soil health, so there is less plant disease. It stabilizes the pH of the soil. The finished compost can be added to bare spots in the lawn, around trees and in vegetable and flower gardens.

The City of Newark does collect leaves, grass clippings, branches 6 inches in diameter or less, and dirt-free garden debris from March until November on Wednesdays in a cit- provided “green” collection bin. The city does not collect vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds or egg shells. These can instead be recycled by backyard composting for re-use in soil. Backyard composting is a win-win situation for you and the environment.

The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.

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