One man's trash is another's treasure. Banana peels, apple cores and animal bones can be placed into your soil to transfer nutrients to your crops.

I'm loving this fall weather; the cool temperature, the increase in rain and the leaves, which are beginning to fall at my house. Looking ahead, I know I'll have a tremendous amount of leaves around my yard to content with. We are blessed with several mature oaks. As I clean up my yard, I don't dispose of all the debris. Instead, I compost them.

Composting is an excellent way to utilize your landscape and food "waste." Instead of disposing of these resources, you can put them back into the earth for tremendous results.

The history of composting
Historians don't exactly know the origins of composting. Clay tablets dating back to the times of ancient Mesopotamia cite the use of manure on crops. Ancient writings also reveal evidence of composting in ancient China by the use of cooked bones, manure and silkworms to enrich their soil.

The practice of composting dates back thousands of years.

Composting manure and straw is even referenced in religious texts. Isaiah 25:10 of the Christian Bible reads, "For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trampled down in his place, as straw is trampled down in a dunghill." Additionally, the Hebrew Talmud records the use of straw, stubble, grass and chaff to enrich the earth.

The ancient Egyptians were also notable composters. In 50 BC, Cleopatra created laws that made the removal of earthworms from Egypt a serious crime. She considered these composting creatures sacred after observing their effect on the soil. 

Early U.S. settlers used this farming method to create rich soil, and Native Americans were also noteworthy composters with multiple effective techniques. They planted animal parts and fish bones alongside crops to encourage the distribution of nutrients, and also balled up seeds with clay and compost when planting them. The clay gave the growing seeds moisture and the compost provided them with nutrients. Even our farming enthusiast founding fathers - George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson - promoted the use of compost.

farmer holding soil in handsComposting creates fertile soil that leads to healthy plants.

How you can compost
If you don't currently have a composting bin, let me encourage you to start one. There are lots of different ways to build one that matches your budget and home aesthetic. For no-frills, simple composting, you can just pile it all up. Nothing fancy at all. In fact, this is the way that I've gone about it over the years. It's out of the way and can grow and change as needed. This method isn't particularly attractive, but its practicality outweighs its appearance.

Another option is to make a circular holding unit made of wire. Containers can be as small as three feet in diameter. You'll need a ten-foot length of 36-inch wide hardware cloth or chicken wire to meet this minimal three-foot length. When it gets full, you can easily lift your wire bin to remove the composted material. This solution is a cheap way to make a compost bin, as it can be constructed for less than $10.

On a larger scale, my parents had a circular wire bin that must have been at least 10 feet across with an opening that allowed us to push the wheelbarrow inside to add to the growing pile. The same wire material can be used, but for a 10-foot diameter circle, you'll need 32 feet of wire, plus a few posts for the opening and to strengthen the long wire circumference.

Square bins are certainly the most photographed and perhaps the most attractive solution. For smaller compost bins, you can put four pallets together, or three pallets if you leave the front open.

The most expensive options are round, tumbler composting containers. I've seen some for sale for just short of $500. You can get them cheaper, but I cannot help but think we lose much of the simplicity of letting our organic material break down in a simpler fashion.

Whatever method you choose, I hope you decide to compost. Find a convenient location that is out of the way of other landscape pieces. Don't rush the process; it could take months to be ready.
We'll talk later about what materials will go into proper composting.

farmer holding crops

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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, national origin, genetic information or veteran status.  The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

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