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Save the environment, money by composting

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Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 6:03 pm

FAIRBANKS — Whenever I mention composting, people assume I mean dumping kitchen and garden remains into piles that have to be turned frequently. That is one method I favor, but I also use or have used a lot of other techniques. The more composting I do, the less money I spend on fertilizers, the less environmental impact I have because I send less to the dump, and the healthier my lawn and garden. If compost piles don’t appeal to you, consider trying one of the following.

1. When we mow the lawn, instead of bagging the grass we leave it to decompose right where it falls. It is less work, and saves us money because we don’t use plastic bags to get it to the dump, and the cut blades add nitrogen to the soil as they rot away.

2. Any appropriate remains are offered to the pets first. I consider my four hens and two sheep to be my first line composters because they will eat almost anything. The hens even get eggs shells that have been washed and ground to a fine powder, to increase the calcium and integrity of the eggs they lay. Remains are composted by them and returned to me as chicken and sheep poop, which then goes into the compost pile — they’re more potent and take up less room than the original plants would have.

3. I do most of my gardening in permanent 3-foot-high raised beds. The first year a bed is built, it is used as a compost site. I throw in the usual kitchen and garden garbage, plus the straw bedding from the sheep manger and the moveable chicken tractor. The next spring, I dump on a layer of soil and plant shallow rooted vegetables that like the heat generated from below as the composting starts. By the end of the summer, the soil has always sunk considerably, but I top it off the following spring and use it as a regular planting bed.

4. For sheet composting, you spread organic remains out evenly on a piece of land and just let it decompose. I use this technique when I am turning grassed areas into perennial plots because it kills off much of the grass and softens up the sod.

5. Trench composting, where you dig a hole or a long trench, fill it with compost and then top it off with dirt is not something I have done very often. However, some folks with a lot of property often find it useful.

6. I did apartment worm composting when we lived in Barrow, with great results. However, the volume you can compost is small.

7. When using tall planters, I fill the bottom third with uncomposted materials. By the end of summer, if the rotting is incomplete, I let the contents finish off in the compost heap.

No matter what your living circumstances, one of these methods probably will work for you.

Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at

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