How to Compost at Home in Palo Alto - Composting 101

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What are the Benefits of Composting for Environmentally Conscious Palo Alto Residents?

Two great reasons why compost is such a great idea:
  1. It's great for the garden --Compost is great for the garden because it improves the soil, which in turn supports healthier and more productive plants.
  2. It is environmentally responsible --Composting reduces the amount of solid waste that is added to the trash.
The Santa Clara County Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission has information on their website about home composting. They even have a limited number of home composting bins available to purchase through the Home Composting Education Program. What can you recycle and compost in Palo Alto? Palo Alto website offers information on what materials can be recycled or composted through the waste collection service. For residents who don't wish to compost their own waste at home, this provides information on how to divide your materials for waste collection.

Optimal Conditions for Compost

How quickly your compost pile in your Palo Alto backyard breaks down depends on four main factors: moisture, oxygen, temperature, and mixture of ingredients. Moisture: Good compost bins provide adequate drainage and allow liquids to drain easily. Stagnant water can kill beneficial bacteria and can attract unwanted pests (like flies and mosquitoes). The proper moisture level for your compost pile could be compared to a damp, wrung out sponge. Oxygen: Many compost bins are designed to provide optimal air flow and circulation. Keeping your compost pile will aerated keeps anaerobic bacteria from making their home in your compost pile. Oxygen is the fuel used by the aerobic microbes that work to break down your waste into finished compost. Temperature: The ideal temperature for the breakdown of waste into compost is between 140 and 160 degrees. This is the temperature at which the microbes work most efficiently. As long as the temperature is above freezing, at least some composting will occur. Mixture of Ingredients: The mixture of ingredients in your compost is important as well. It is important to maintain a balance of both "green" and "brown" materials in your compost mixture. The ideal ratio is 75% brown to 25% green. "Green" materials refers to those materials that are high in nitrogen and "brown" materials refers to those materials that are rich in carbon. Examples of "brown" and "green" materials: Types of Brown Materials:
  • Brown, dry leaves
  • Dried grass
  • Straw
Types of Green Materials:
  • Fresh (green) Grass clippings
  • Fresh manure (horse, chicken, rabbit, cow)
  • Kitchen scraps (fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags)
  • Weeds
  • Green leaves

What NOT to Add to your Compost Pile

As important as it is to know what to put into your compost pile, it is just as important to know what NOT to add.
  • Meats, Fish and Animal Fats - though they will decompose, you will also attract unwanted pests from their odors. Stick to plant materials to keep the unwanted visitors away.
  • Shredded paper - These are best avoided because of the potential chemicals in the inks used. Why risk adding chemicals to your compost? Recycle your paper instead.
  • Ashes from your BBQ or Fireplace - Ashes are very alkaline and can alter the pH of the compost. Ashes to have some lawn care applications, but don't add them to your compost pile.
  • Dog and Cat "manure" - While it is beneficial to add horse, chicken, cow manure to your compost, you should never add dog or cat feces to your compost because of the potential risk of disease.

When and Where to Use Your Finished Compost Material

Soil Building– Adding compost is the best thing you can add to create good garden soil. It will improve fertility, water retention for sandy soils, water drainage for clay soils, and improve your soil’s disease fighting characteristics. Garden Fertilizer – You can use compost throughout the growing season as a garden fertilizer. Simply sprinkle compost around your fruits, vegetables and flowers for a slow-release food source and improved disease prevention. Lawn Feeding – Screened compost can be applied as a lawn fertilizer throughout the season. It provides a great slow-release food as well as assists preventing disease in your lawn. Palo Alto residents can use composting as an environmental responsible way to make their own food for their flowerbeds, lawns, and gardens. They can reduce the household waste that makes its way to landfills, while creating nutrients for plants in their yards. Sounds like a win, win for your yard and for the environment.