Yes, you can compost at high elevations |

Yes, you can compost at high elevations

Holly Loff

Composting is best described as the practice of controlled decomposition of organic materials.The resulting soil-like substance is called compost and is highly fertile.It is often used as a mulch or plant growing medium that enhances plant growth, enriches topsoil and improves poor soil quality caused by mining or over production of crops. Particularly important to our community, in addition to the benefits already mentioned, is composts ability to strengthen plants and better prepare them to withstand drought and freeze. Additionally, backyard composting saves the community money and promotes sustainable living by reducing the earth devoted to landfilling, reducing air and water pollution, and reducing the need to purchase and use fertilizers and pesticides. The only effects that the altitude has on the composting process is that it can slow it down, and yes the colder temperatures and dry climate that we have contribute to this factor, as well.If you keep several key elements in mind, you will produce quality compost more quickly than a lazier composter in a temperate climate or at sea level. The things to keep in mind are oxygen, moisture, surface area, volume and materials. Oxygen Make sure that your bin has ventilation holes. Mixing will also help to add more air to the pile, but it is not required. It is possible to compost anaerobically (without oxygen) and this is a great option for people that are worried about bears, but it has its drawbacks and usually is not utilized due to them.I will discuss this approach more in the section on bears below. Moisture Keep your pile moist but not wet. Surface Area Cut, chop, pound or somehow make the material that you add smaller so that the microorganisms and insects in the pile have more accessible area to work on. Volume Dont let your pile get any bigger than 5 square feet or it is hard to manage and make sure that it is larger than 3 square feet or it wont get hot enough to compost quickly. Materials You need green stuff (nitrogen material) and brown stuff (carbon material) in your pile. Nitrogen material includes veggie scraps, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, grass clippings and manure.Carbon materials include paper, dead leaves, straw, hair, vacuum cleaner dirt and dryer lint. Following these basic guidelines will help you to compost efficiently in the High Country, and they also will help in yards where bears are regular visitors.The appropriate mixture of carbon and nitrogen material, water and air circulation keeps odors to a minimum and therefore will not attract bears. If these guidelines dont quell your concerns about bears, use these additional tips: Place your compost bin in an open area, away from trees and shrubs to reduce security cover for the bear. Keep brush around the bin trimmed back as well. Never add animal products. You should not do this anyway and this includes fish, meat, bones, dairy products, oils, fats and grease. Do not add cooked foods; adding these will reduce the efficiency of composting anyway. Do not add pet waste or pet food. Consider not adding fruit at all. Fruit is especially attractive to bears in late summer and early fall when they are searching for berries and other fruit. Many people in bear country add fruit to their bins only in the winter when bears are hibernating. Aerate or mix your bin often. (But not more than once a week, which will actually slow the composting process.) Put an electric fence around your bin. It is easy to run these off of solar panels. Consider soil ingestion, a method of composting below ground in a locked container. This is anaerobic (without oxygen) composting. When you lift the lid it will smell, but this is the method that backcountry forest rangers employ to compost their wastes. It is well tested and the odors are contained until you open the lid. If you are still leery about composting with bears around, I recommend worm composting, which is done indoors.Worm composting creates no odors and works more quickly than backyard composting. And worms are just plain fun. To learn more about composting at high altitude and in bear country attend the Back Yard Composting Workshop at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Hobby Room of the Summit County Community and Senior Center at the County Commons near Frisco.It is important to reserve a seat in the class as space is limited and it fills up fast. Call (970) 668-5703 or e-mail to reserve your spot. Holly Loff is the education coordinator for the Summit Recycling Project, based in Frisco.

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