Recycling Nature's Way - You Can Make a Difference!
Approximately 12% of the County's landfilled trash is yard trim. Solve the yard trim challenge in your own backyard! Composting is a safe, natural way to convert leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable refuse into valuable organic matter, known as humus, which is rich in nutrients. When spread in the garden, humus improves soil aeration, water retention and root penetration.
Home Composting Guide.
EPA compost information.
EPA seasonal planner.
Simple and fun composting information for kids (and adults too)!
Visit a compost demonstration site for hands-on composting techniques and "Let Worms Eat Your Garbage" vermicomposting. Compost demonstrations are offered April - October. See the 2013 schedule.
How Composting Works
Composting is a natural decomposition process. By observing a few simple rules, anyone can be a successful composter. Microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa digest plant tissues in the compost pile. For microbes to accomplish their work, they need enough nitrogen, oxygen and water to feed on the carbon rich plant materials provided by you, the gardener. Plant material will also decompose more quickly as the temperature increases.
Building a Compost Pile is Easy!
- Select the materials to be composted. In general, leaves, grass clippings, brush and vegetable waste all work well.
- Shred or chop materials to accelerate composting.
- Mix layers of plant materials high in nitrogen with those high in carbon. As a rule of thumb, green materials such as grass clippings are higher in nitrogen and brown materials such as leaves are higher in carbon. By alternating layers of green and brown materials, nitrogen becomes more readily available for microbial action.
- When nitrogen rich plant materials are not available, spread about a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer with each cubic yard of compressed plant material.
- Build your pile to maximum of 4 feet high by 4 feet wide. Piles higher or wider may lack the necessary oxygen to decompose quickly.
Care of Your Compost Pile
The optimal moisture content of the pile should fall between 40 and 60 percent. The compost should feel damp, but you should not be able to squeeze out any free moisture. To alleviate excess moisture, the pile can be covered to exclude rain or turned more frequently to allow it to dry. The pile should be watered during dry spells.
The Finer Points of Composting
A free standing pile will suffice or an inexpensive enclosure can be built with wooden pallets. More substantial enclosures may be built from wire mesh or wood and wire mesh, or attractive prefabricated compost bins may be purchased from local hardware stores.
Do not add meat or dairy products to your compost piles - they cause odors and attract animals. To alleviate odors caused by excessive nitrogen or water-logged compost, turn the pile frequently. After a few dry days the odors will disappear.
If your compost pile heats up properly, most disease and insect organisms will be destroyed.
Depending on the type of materials placed in the pile and the number of times it is turned or aerated, composted material should be ready to use in the garden during the next growing season.
Rake and Take Program
Do you want leaves for your compost piles or gardens? Do you have extra leaves, bagged and ready to go that you just don't need or have room for anymore? The Rake and Take Program finds and matches those that want leaves with those that have leaves. Leaves provide a wonderful carbon amendment to your compost piles, acts as a great soil mulch and temperature stabilizer in your gardens and if left on your gardens, will break down to give you a rich, healthy soil. For more, see the Rake and Take Flier or visit http://mastergardener.umd.edu.
FREE Compost Bins
For a FREE compost instruction kit and/or a FREE compost bin while supplies last, visit 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive, Suite 514 or Alpha Ridge Landfill at 2350 Marriottsville Road. Compost bins are made from 100% recycled plastic and are available to Howard County residents only.
Here are directions to build a pallet composting bin out of wood pallets.
Pilot Compost Area at ARL
Check out the newly opened pilot compost facility that's operating at Alpha Ridge Landfill! More...
Want compost, but don't have the yard space to make your own compost pile? You're in luck! The following locations retail this 'black gold'.
Alpha Ridge Landfill - Bulk
2350 Marriottsville Rd.
Marriottsville, MD 21104
Grandfather’s Nursery - Bulk & Bags
5320 Phelps Luck Drive
Columbia, MD 21045
Kendalls Hardware - Bags
12260 Route 108
Clarksville, MD 21029
Maryland Ground Covers – Bulk
3810 Ten Oaks Road
Glenelg, MD 21737
Visit www.menv.com for additional compost retailers in Howard County. Please note that Howard County does not endorse vendors or products.
A Special Note for Columbia Residents
Compost bins appropriately located in your rear yard, out of sight from the street, are acceptable in Columbia since they are not considered permanent structures. Check with your Village Office for local restrictions.
For More Information...
Home and Garden Center
University of Maryland, Cooperative Extension Service, (800) 342-2507
Howard County Master Gardeners
University of Maryland, Cooperative Extension Service, (410) 313-2707
Howard County Department of Public Works
Recycling Hotline, (410) 313-6444 (TTY 313-2323)