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Compost creates better soil and keeps waste out of the landfill

A look inside the Gabriel's Earth Machine, after adding the contents from the orange bowl. Photo by - Jesse Trelstad1 / 3
Cadence Gabriel, 5, turns over the tumbler bin with help from her mother Wendy as her sister, Caleigh, 8, watches. Photo by - Jesse Trelstad2 / 3
The Gabriels fill this orange bowl with items for compost -- coffee grounds, lettuce, orange peel and cardboard from a toilet paper roll. Wendy Gabriel says that composting is "as much about reducing waste as making compost." Photo by - Jesse Trelstad3 / 3

Wendy Gabriel has been composting for as long as she can remember.

In fact, when she and her family moved to Fargo from the Twin Cities in 2009, one of the first things they purchased was a composter.

Gabriel, who created a website about living an environmentally friendly lifestyle on, says composting is a lot easier than most people realize.

"At some point all organic matter will decompose," Gabriel said. "It's something that you really can't mess up."

You can measure the soil's temperature and track the carbon to nitrogen ratio if you want to, but it's not necessary, Gabriel said.

"People think it's really difficult," she said. "It's as easy as throwing it in the garbage."

Yard trimmings and food waste make up 27 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

When used in gardens and yards, compost also improves the soil structure, porosity, and density, creating a better environment for plant roots, according to the U.S. Composting Council.

And it doesn't smell or attract flies and mice - you just have to know what to compost and what not to compost, said Gabriel.

Avid gardeners may need to pay more attention to the ratios of different products they put into their compost, but Gabriel just throws all of her compostable materials together and uses the same compost in her yard, garden and flower beds.

"I am certainly more of a pacifist composter," Gabriel said. "I love the end result, but my big thing is creating less waste to throw into the landfill."

She does keep a separate compost bin for weeds because she doesn't want them to spread. She said she's not yet sure what she'll do with that compost, but she knows she doesn't want it going to the landfill.

If you can heat the composting pile to above 140 degrees, you can roast the seeds so they don't sprout in your garden soil, according to

Gabriel has a bowl she uses when cutting up vegetables and anything that can be composted goes in the bowl. After dinner, any leftovers except those containing meat, dairy or oils go into the compost bin.

"Make sure it's conveniently located to your kitchen, so it's easier for you to remember to go bring it out," she suggests.

Even her kids know what can go in the bin. If they're eating an apple outside, they throw the core in the compost bin when they're done, Gabriel said.

Gabriel said when she was growing up, her dad made a three-bin composter out of chicken wire and wood.

The type of composter depends on how much you have going in and how much space you have to store it, she said.

Microorganisms will do the rest of the work for you.

According to the U.S. Composting Council, microorganisms that require oxygen produce compost by accelerating the natural decomposition process. A high-temperature phase sanitizes the product and allows a high rate of decomposition, followed by a lower-temperature phase that allows the product to stabilize.

You can find a slew of information about how to compost at

Basically, you need a compost site with drainage, air flow, insulation and a good mix of various ingredients, according to the website.

Your compost pile should be damp without being wet (about like a squeezed sponge), well-aerated, and it should have a mix of yard and kitchen waste, according to the site.

The fastest decomposition occurs between 140 and 160 degrees, so to get extra heat, choose a compost bin with dark walls or put a black tarp over a compost pile, the site states.

Here's a list of what -- and what not - to compost:

Do compost:

• Animal manure

• Cardboard rolls

• Clean paper

• Coffee grounds and filters

• Cotton rags

• Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint

• Eggshells

• Fireplace ashes

• Fruits and vegetables

• Grass clippings

• Hair and fur

• Hay and straw

• Houseplants

• Leaves

• Nut shells

• Sawdust

• Shredded newspaper

• Tea bags

• Wood chips

• Wool rags

• Yard trimmings

Do NOT compost:

• Black walnut tree leaves or twigs, which release substances that might be harmful to plants

• Coal or charcoal ash might contain substances harmful to plants

• Eggs and dairy products (like butter, milk, sour cream, and yogurt) create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

• Diseased or insect-ridden plants. The disease or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants

• Fats, grease, lard, or oils create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

• Meat or fish bones and scraps create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

• Pet wastes like dog or cat feces and soiled cat litter might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses that are harmful to humans

• Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides might kill beneficial composting organisms

Source: Environmental Protection Agency