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Composting 101 at the Bellingham Public Library

Oct 30, 2017 07:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

Kate Donovan and Eric Bromberg display a container of "Black Gold" compost

Patrons at the Bellingham Library had all their composting questions answered by Kate Donovan and Eric Bromberg of Blackstone Valley Veggie Gardens on October 11th. Presented as part of a Cornerstones of Science Grant, the program answered basic questions on how to compost and how to avoid common problems.

Garden Consultant Kate Donovan began the program by touting the benefits of composting, one of which is sustainability. “Composting is a big deal now,” she explained. “Recycling is having a second life. Everyone agrees that becoming more sustainable is a goal, and we’re doing better as a society with that.”

According to the presentation, composting is defined as “a natural process of recycling organic materials such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a rich soil amendment that gardeners fondly nickname ‘Black Gold.’” A container of Black Gold was passed around so that audience members could note its consistency and lack of odor.

What makes good compost was a little trickier. Kate explained that a good mix should include one part green material to two parts brown. Examples of brown material would be carbon-rich material such as wood ash, shredded cardboard, sawdust, newspaper, peanut shells, corn stalks, and straw. She noted that some people don’t use newspaper because of the ink, though a little bit is okay. Green material includes things such as chicken, horse, or cow manure; coffee grounds; grass clippings; leaves; vegetable scraps; hedge clippings; and egg shells. Many of these items are found in the yard, or are kitchen scraps that would otherwise be thrown away.

Almost as important as what can be composted is what not to compost. Grass clippings shouldn’t be used if the grass was chemically treated, and Kate noted that wet grass tends to stick together and clump. Pet droppings should be avoided because they contain bacteria that can make people sick. Other items to stay away from include bones, plastic, fat, plants treated with pesticide, anything containing cleaning chemicals, diseased plants, or colored paper.

Types of compost bins vary from tumblers, which can be on the expensive end, to do-it-yourself compost bins made with recycled pallets or chicken wire. You don’t need a lot of money to get started, but it’s better if your compost pile is raised, kept moist, and turned once in a while. The important thing is to make sure to turn the compost and give it water. The best tool for the aeration is a pitchfork because the prongs make natural holes.

“It takes a good four to six months to get good compost,” she noted, depending on what you put into the mix. If done correctly, the pile won’t smell or attract bugs. When it’s time to plant, the amount of compost needed for the soil varies on the type of planting. For an in-ground garden, you should till or mix in three inches of compost, but pots should use only 30% compost and 70% potting mix. If you don’t have a lot of compost, any amount will help if you mix a handful around your plants when planting.

Bellingham partnered with the MA Dept. of Environmental Protection and received a grant to purchase compost bins. The Bellingham D.P.W. has a small number of Earth Machine bins available for a $19 fee. For more information, contact the DPW at 508-966-5816.
More information on composting or other gardening topics can be found at, and Kate and Eric both have active Facebook groups on gardening that can be found at and

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