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NMSU expert gives tips for composting this summer

Composting can help the environment and your backyard gardening, saving you money, and filling your soil with nutrients.

NMSU?s Environmental Science Student Association tend to the composting facility south of Gerald Thomas Hall. They are processing food waste from the 100 West Café, some of which comes from vegetables grown in the nearby Student-Centered Field Lab. The mature compost will be plowed back into the garden, completing a sustainability loop. (NMSU photo by Angela Simental)

?Composting takes the food out of the waste stream that would ordinarily end up in the landfill, and it recycles the nutrients back to the following crop that would ordinarily be lost to the landfill,? said William Lindemann, New Mexico State University professor of soil microbiology, biochemistry and nutrient cycling. Lindemann also oversees the Environmental Science Student Organization composting area at NMSU and teaches students the principals of composting.

If you are thinking of composting this summer, take note on the tips to maximize the use of your leftovers.

Is New Mexico summer weather too hot for composting?
Keeping the compost pile moist is key.
?Water is a critical ingredient. The pile must be kept moist to maintain microbial activity,? Lindemann said. ?High temperature only hurts the composting operation by evaporating the water.?

Where is the best place to keep a compost pile?
?Any place away from the house with a water supply, such as a hose,? said Lindemann.
It is not necessary to enclose the compost pile, but it might attract wildlife and an enclosure keeps animals out.

What are the materials needed to begin a compost pile?
?Any organic material can be composted. So, you can use yard and food waste as well as manure,? Lindemann said. ?Organics can be added as long as the pile heats. If the temperature goes below 130 degrees Fahrenheit, no more materials should be added.?

How often should one turn it?
Turning it depends on the temperature.
?When first made and heating, the compost pile should be turned every few days, and once it is no longer heating, then every week or so,? he added.

When do you know it?s ready?
This depends on what was put in.
?In most situations, where yard waste is used, after it stops heating it should take about two to four months to age,? Lindemann suggests.

Will my yard have an odor?
Smell can be a problem if not done correctly, particularly if food waste is involved.

Since compost can attract flies and other insects, what is the best way to control that without affecting the compost?

Flies are a problem if composting food waste, but not so much with lawn waste and manure. The only solution is to put up fly traps, Lindemann suggests.