CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I received the most wonderful letter from Peggy Cavender, of Charleston.
"I'm nearly 85 and have let another year pass without once and for all going through the beginning steps to learn hands-on composting. It's bugging the daylights out of me. I have kept a small covered plastic pail of stuff for composting for months and was holding decomposing leaves to be added. This was to be the year as it had become a thing that another year could not pass and my goal not be accomplished."
Because Peggy doesn't have a computer, I looked up some information for her. She asked if she could add the old stuff she's collected to start a compost pile. I visited www.composting101.com to see.
"Compost bins can be fancy or plain. Something as simple as a stack of old tires can be put to use as a composter," according to the website.
"To start a compost pile, first select a site in full sun. It is preferable to have the compost sitting directly on the surface of the soil. Cut or chop garden clippings into small pieces. A grinder would be wonderful for this part of the job, but not necessary. Pruning shears work just as well except that it takes longer to chop the garden debris into small pieces. Smaller pieces compost more quickly."
Everything will eventually turn to compost, but to speed things up, you need to have a combination of green and dry material; shredded newspaper works well when there are no dry leaves available. Keep the compost pile damp and turn the pile often to incorporate oxygen. The more frequently you turn the pile, the sooner you will have finished compost to use in the garden. However, if you don't turn the pile at all, you will still get compost. There is a saying in the organic community: "Compost happens."
The black stuff at the bottom of the pile is compost. Use the broken down "stuff" and leave the larger chunks to continue breaking down. Don't use the compost when it is hot (it heats up with decomposition); wait for the material to cool down before putting it in the garden.