Breaking it Down: The Basics of Composting

September 12, 2013

Water – Use It Wisely offers one of my favorite tips: water-saving tip #7 Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Instead, compost vegetable food waste and save gallons every time.

Composting is not only a great way to recycle your kitchen scraps, it also makes better use of your green yard waste. The finished mulch can be added to vegetable or flower beds to enrich the soil, or applied overtop of the ground around your trees and shrubs to reduce plant water needs by as much as 30%!

Learn more about the benefits of mulch and how to properly apply it on our Principles of Xeriscape page.

Anything that was once a plant can be composted. Grass clippings, vegetable and fruit waste, coffee grounds, shredded paper, and weeds or leafy trimmings from the yard can also be composted. Layer these materials, add water and turn the pile. Tip: Coffee shops often give away their used coffee grounds.

In our dry, Arizona desert climate, things can petrify, or become hard, instead of putrefying, or breaking down. To prevent this, keep things moist by periodically adding water. Turning the pile will provide oxygen and help speed up the composting process. Avoid meats, grease, fats and oils, dairy products, dog and cat feces and plants that are diseased or weedy. To reduce flies, cover the surface with straw or leaves.

The City of Mesa offers a Backyard Composting Program that provides compost containers to Mesa residents for a $5 refundable deposit. Check with your solid waste provider to see what resources are available in your area.

Composting tips are available in Composting for Dummies, a book by local Arizona gardener and writer Cathy Cromell. Also, Lotech Products, a small company in Tucson, AZ, makes a great tool called the Compost Crank that can help turn and aerate your bin.

Donna DiFrancesco is a conservation coordinator with the City of Mesa, AZ. The City of Mesa, AZ is one of 20 Water – Use It Wisely partners to offer water-saving advice and programs.