Compost can be used in your garden, flower beds, as a top dressing to rejuvenate your lawn, and more. It has numerous benefits and uses which include:
Saving money by reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.
Improving soil fertility and increasing water infiltration.
Preventing the erosion of valuable nutrient-rich topsoil.
What is Organic Matter?
Soil is a living, breathing ecosystem with many small microbes and organisms that live within the soil. Just like humans, those organisms need food, water and air.
Using compost to build up your soil's organic matter will add food for those small organisms that live in the soil. As the organisms eat the organic matter, they produce a substance that helps bind soil particles together (otherwise called aggregates).
Aggregates create airspace in the soil structure. More airspace allows soil to have more water retention capacity, additional microorganism activity, deeper plant roots and a reduced risk for plant disease. Organic matter is critical for a healthy living ecosystem within our soil.
Where Can I Use Compost?
When designing or installing a landscape plan, it is important to first determine the health of the soil and identify what soil amendments are needed. Soil tests are useful tools to understand the best application rate and characteristics of the soil. Companies offer soil testing for a small fee. Your local Extension Office can help guide you towards quality testing facilities in your area.
More information on soil testing
Calculate the amount of compost needed for application
If you have additional questions about the use of compost, you are always welcome to call the Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Solid Waste Management Division Hotline at 402-441-8215.
Next: Your Yard Waste Makes EarthFuel Compost
State law identifies that leaves and grass cannot be mixed with current garbage collection from April 1st through November 30th each year. During this period of time residents can subscribe to yard waste (leaves and grass) collection through your current garbage collector. Residents can also self-haul your yard waste and tree waste to the North 48th Street Transfer station at 5101 North 48th Street gate fees apply. If you have questions about yard waste collection or wood waste, contact your garbage collector.
What you put in your yard waste bin matters because the yard waste is used to make EarthFuel compost. EarthFuel uses the leaves, grass and woodchips received at our facility in a recipe to start the composting process. During the composting process heat is generated, which significantly reduces pathogens and weed seeds. When composting is complete, the organic material has been transformed into a product that is beneficial to plant growth. Compost is typically used as a soil amendment but may also contribute plant nutrients. Finished compost is screened by a 1” screen to reduce its particulate size for improved soil incorporation.
EarthFuel compost starts with organic material: primarily grass, leaves and wood chips
The composting process turns this organic material into a product beneficial to plant growth
Finished compost can be used as a soil amendment rich in plant nutrients
When the compost has completed the composting process, a field test is conducted on each windrow of compost. If the compost passes this test, samples are sent to an independent lab that analyzes nutrient and heavy metal content of the compost as well as its biological and physical properties. A local lab conducts a seed germination test and the UNL Horticulture Department conducts bioassays on the compost to identify if there is any persistent herbicides detected in the compost. EarthFuel compost must go through both of these tests prior to public distribution of the material.
Previous: Information About Compost
Next: Where to Buy Compost
EarthFuel compost may be obtained for no cost at the North 48th Street Transfer Station. This site is only for small vehicles and/or trailers that do not exceed 60 square feet of cargo area. The material is available on a first come, first served basis. Individuals must self-load the compost by hand.
To purchase larger quantities of EarthFuel compost, visit the Bluff Road Solid Waste Management Facility. The cargo area must be larger than 60 square feet to be purchased and loaded at this facility.
Other Local Compost
EarthFuel is not the only bulk compost available locally. You can purchase compost at any of the following whole-sale locations:
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Next: Backyard Composting
There are six building blocks for compost:
- Biology: The compost pile is really a teeming microbial farm. Bacteria start the process of decaying organic matter. They are the first to break down plant tissue and also the most numerous and effective composters. Fungi and protozoa soon join the bacteria and somewhat later in the cycle, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and earthworms do their part.
- Material: Anything growing in the yard can be composted. This plant material has carbon and nitrogen which microbes use as food.
- Surface Area: The more surface the micro-organisms have to work on, the faster materials decompose. Shredding leaves or chopping garden wastes will speed up the decomposition process.
- Volume and Temperature: The composting process generates a lot of heat, up to 160°. This heat means that the compost pile is working effectively and decomposing very quickly. A large compost pile insulates itself and holds heat better.
- Moisture and Air: Micro-organisms need air and water to survive. They will thrive in a pile that is turned on a regular basis, and has the moisture of a wrung-out sponge.
- Time: A pile that's made with the proper materials and provided adequate volume, moisture, surface area and air, will make finished composting in just a few short weeks. If one of these components is neglected, compost will still result, but at a much later date.
The How-to's of Building a Compost Pile
Composting piles are made up by layering different plant materials together. Micro-organisms feed on this plant material and leave behind compost. To build a compost pile, layer materials as outlined below.
Layers of a Compost Pile
- Layer 1.
- Four to six inches of chopped brush or other coarse material set on top of the soil will let air circulate around the base of the pile.
- Layer 2.
- Three to four inches of grass clippings or hay. This material should be damp when added to the pile.
- Layer 3.
- Three to four inches of leaves, straw, wood chips or corn stalks. This material should be damp when added.
- Layer 4.
- (Optional) One cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer or bloodmeal will provide a "nitrogen boost" to speed decomposition.
Repeat layers until the pile is about four feet high or the bin is almost full. To help speed the decomposition process, you can add four to six inches of straw to the top. Scoop out a basin in the top to catch rain water. Continue to monitor your pile to ensure it remains moist.
Kitchen vegetable scraps can be added to the pile, however, these items are more likely to draw pests and should be avoided if the pile is not well maintained. Do not add the following items to your compost pile: cat and dog manure, peanut butter, mayonnaise, sour cream and other processed or non-plant materials.
C:N Ratios: "Greens" vs. "Browns"
Average C:N Ratios for Organic Materials
The micro-organisms in compost use carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein synthesis. The proportion of these two elements should average about 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Most materials available for composting don't have this ratio, so to speed up composting, the goal is to balance the numbers. For instance, a mixture of one-half leaves (40:1 ratio) could be used with one-half grass clippings (20:1 ratio) to make a pile with the ideal 30:1 ratio.
In the simplest terms, you can consider low carbon items as "green" and high carbon items as "browns," then it's just a simple matter of balancing the greens and browns. The chart below will help you balance your C:N ratio.
- Alfalfa hay
- Grass clippings
- Rotted manure
- Good Compost
- 25 to 35:1
- Corn stalks
- 40 to 80:1
Composting is a science based on guess work. Ideally a compost pile's outside will be warm, moist and earthy-smelling. When it's not, it means that one or more of the six components listed at the beginning of this article are out of balance. Chart B will help you correct the problem. If there is a problem with your compost pile, don't worry; compost will still result, but you'll have to wait longer.
There are many books about composting; look for them at book stores, garden centers and the public library. Your county extension agent can also answer your composting questions.
|The pile is wet and smells like rotten eggs.
||Not enough air; pile too wet.
||Turn it; add course, dry waste such as straw or corn stalks.
|The center is dry and contains tough, woody wastes.
||Not enough water in pile. Too much woody material.
||Turn and moisten; add fresh green waste; chop or shred the pile.
|The pile is damp and warm right in the middle, but nowhere else.
||Pile is too small, or too dry.
||Collect more material and mix into a new pile; moisten.
|The pile is damp and sweet-smelling, but will not heat up.
||Lack of nitrogen. The compost may be done; check and see!
||Mix in fresh grass clippings or nitrogen fertilizer.
|The pile has an ammonia odor.
||Too much green material. Lack of nitrogen.
||Add high carbon materials, such as straw, wood chips or sawdust.
|Pests (raccoons, rats and insects) are attracted to the pile.
||Meat scraps and fatty foods are present.
||Remove meat and fatty foods from pile. Cover pile with layer of soil. Turn the pile to increase temperature.
For more information, call the City of Lincoln Waste Diversion and Recycling Office: 402-441-8215.
Previous: Where to Buy Compost
Think global, buy local compost.
Our planet will thank you later.