Things to Watch
Keeping compost safe.
Compared to crossing the street, compost is pretty darned safe. But even compost can cause serious health problems. Some of these problems, such as the fungal diseases, afflict very few people. Others, like the pathogens, are far more likely to occur in manures than in compost.
Pesticides and heavy metals turn up more often in municipal composts than home brews, but do not take this for granted. Some pesticides persist longer and travel farther than one might think possible. A fungicide used on your land before you lived there, or a pesticide that drifts from someone else’s property, can potentially end up in your garden, your grass and plants, and eventually your compost. Also, gardens established on former industrial sites can contain contaminated soil. Even if the soil itself isn’t added to compost, plants grown in it may carry the contaminants into compost.
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The list of problems is relatively short and the probability of occurrence small. But the risks are real. Some of the chemicals and pathogens involved are quite nasty, so it’s a good idea to be aware of them. Once you know about the potential hazards, you can take preventative steps which are discussed in the final section of this site, Practice Safe Composting, and summarized in an overview at its end.
What’s the Best Compost?
It’s no secret. The best compost is the compost you make yourself. Why? When you make your own compost, you control what goes in it. You keep the harmful stuff out. You control the balance of ingredients and don’t rely on any one component, say the ubiquitous “forest products” that so many commercial grades of compost are mostly made of.
If buying bagged compost, look for OMRI listed products and don’t be afraid to mix in some trusted earthworm castings. The more varied your ingredients, the better the final product will be. Your garden, and your soil, will thank you … with bounty!
What products to compost
You will be able to source all of the essential elements in order to build a great compost pile without having to look too far! As long as your carbon to nitrogen ratio is optimal (25-30:1) your compost pile will be breaking down properly. Here are some lists of acceptable additions:
Carbon Rich Material "Browns"
Cardboard (free of dyes)
Stems & twigs
Nitrogen Rich Material "Greens"
Kitchen food waste
Weeds (that have NOT gone to seed)
Things to Avoid
Diseased plant material
Manures from carnivorous animals
As for the rhododendron and holly leaves, you can definitely put them in your compost pile. However, it is a good idea to really chop or shred them up, as they take much longer to break down due to their fibrous and waxy make up. It really depends on how quickly you are trying to create usable compost. It might be a good idea to have a separate pile going that you incorporate those leaves into and another pile that you do not. That way you can have a pile you know will rapidly break down into garden goodness and have yet another ready to use later on. Good luck!
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