By Laura Keil

Do you compost? For many people, composting is something they’ve heard of but never tried. They think it’s too finicky or too smelly or they worry they won’t compost “right.” But the reality is, composting is very easy and the pay-off is immense.

Finished compost, ready to add to the garden.

Composting is the natural process of turning organic matter, such as leaves, grass clippings and food scraps, into valuable fertile soil.

In sandy areas like Valemount, when you landscape your yard or start a garden, the existing soil is often not enough. You need to supplement. And while paying for added soil may be a necessity in the beginning, having a compost will save you lots of money in the long-run, as many vegetables and flowers require a boost of nutrients each year. Why pay for compost/fertilizer when you can shore up your existing riches?

Here are a few simple guidelines that you can memorize right now, according to local composting guru and gardening columnist Pete Amyoony and other local gardeners:

Pete Amyoony shows his compost before it’s screened into his potting soil. He mixes his own potting soil using screened compost, peat moss, manure and wood ash. /LAURA KEIL
  • Add 10-20 times as many “browns” (grass clippings, dried leaves, straw) as you do “greens” (kitchen scraps or garden scraps). Never put meat or dairy in your compost, and avoid citrus.
  • If you live in proximity to bears, always cover up your greens with a layer of browns (this strategy also works with hungry crows).
  • Remember to water your compost until the moisture is like a wrung-out sponge and give it enough aeration, either by stirring it periodically or designing the bin with air-flow (ex. The slats in pallets are great for this; useful tools for stirring are a pitchfork or wing-digger).
  • The size of your compost bin matters. A bin/pile at least 1m x 1m x 1m will ensure it’s big enough to heat up, so the microbes can do their work and the organic matter will break down nicely.

Amyoony says he layers his compost: one layer of browns, one layer of earth, one layer of old manure, a layer of leaves, a layer of greens, and then a layer of straw. But if you don’t have access to all of these don’t worry, you can simply focus on the 10-1 ratio of browns and greens using other available materials.

“That’s the secret of good composting—it’s just a real mixture of many, many different things.”

He says the grass and leaves are important because their roots draw out micro-nutrients from further down in the soil.

He refers to his compost as “Black Gold” since it provides vital nutrients to his huge greenhouse and garden each year. Amyoony plants 10,000-15,000 bedding plants each year.
There is no reason to be afraid of compost, he says.

As many gardeners can attest, the worst case scenario is that your compost will not mature as fast as you like or can get smelly, both of which are easily fixable. The best case scenario is that you dump a variety of organic waste in a pile and, voila, the following season you have a rich soil additive that will make your yard and garden verdant and lush!

Community Compost
New resident Anna Minten has teamed up with Valemount’s community garden to start a community compost program. The idea is to collect food and yard waste from residents and combine them in a compost located at the community garden behind Valemount Secondary School. Minten says those participating in the program will reap the rewards of finished compost once it’s ready.

Building new garden beds with layered branch clippings, spent mushroom sawdust, leaf litter, and then a layer of topsoil or finished compost. /JEAN ANN BERKENPAS

Minten says composting helps decompose what is otherwise considered garbage, into fertile garden soil. She says scientists predict the world has approximately 50-60 years of growing topsoil left.

“As a globe we have been harvesting produce from fertile lands and stripping the land of its nutrients by not helping build back the soil,” Minten says. “Using fertilizers can give nutrients to your plants, but without proper soil those nutrients quickly wash away into our water systems.”

In the Valemount area in particular there is little to no topsoil, which many gardeners can agree makes it very hard for gardening. She says by participating in this program not only are you saving food and garden scraps from the landfill, but you’ll be helping build beautiful ‘black gold’ for the local community garden.

Once you have registered to take part in the program she says it’ll be a simple process of bringing your filled buckets or truckloads of clean composting materials to the compost in Valemount. To learn more or become a part of the program contact Anna Mint on Facebook or come by the garden between 4-6 on Thursdays and talk to Rebecca or email her at [email protected]