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AYER — Instead of throwing leftover food in the trash, consumers can save money by turning the waste into compost for their lawns and gardens.

Compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments that can be used instead of commercial fertilizers, according to Michele Cannon, of Mother Earth Landscaping based in Townsend.

Cannon held a workshop at Ayer Public Library to teach residents how to use household items, such as food scraps, grass clippings and leaves, to make their own compost.

Foods that can be composted include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and bags, crushed egg shells, boiled and crushed bones, crushed lobster, crab and shrimp shells, and other fish debris.

Making a compost pile can be quick and easy, said Cannon, as long as the pile has the proper ratio of carbon-rich materials, known as “browns,” and nitrogen-rich materials, known as “greens.”

Among brown materials are dried leaves, straw and wood chips. Green materials include grass clippings and kitchen scraps.

“If you want a fast compost,” Cannon said, “get yourself some worms.”

Two pounds of earthworms can recycle 11 pounds of organic waste in 24 hours, she said.

“Earthworms don’t like hot and spicy food though,” said Cannon. “Also, if you grind food up, that works best. Make sure to clump it up, don’t spread it around. Earthworms are the taxi cabs of the ground. They’ll get around.”

Earthworms should also be kept out of the rain, Cannon added, because they will go father down into the soil or can even drown in too much water.

“Be careful though,” she laughed. “They multiply faster than rabbits.”

African red worms are the best type of worms for compost. Cannon suggested using the formal name, Eisenia fetida, when buying the worms to guarantee you’re purchasing the correct ones.

A key factor in the decomposition process is the storage of the waste.

Home gardeners are constantly inventing creative and inexpensive ways to hold their compost, according to Cannon. Making bins out of wire mesh and wooden shipping pallets for larger compost piles could be inexpensive, she said. Purchasing smaller bins commercially is also an option, she said, depending on a consumer’s budget.

Outside elements, such as rain, sun, warm and cold temperatures, and snow can affect the speed of the compost decomposition process.

Cannon suggested finding a level, well-drained, area that’s sunny if in cooler temperatures and shaded if in warmer temperatures.

Once the compost is ready to spread on lawns and gardens, Cannon said raking in a half-inch of compost is best.

“Don’t till in the compost,” she said. “Just go down a little bit and lift (the soil) up. You want a lot of air (in the soil) but you don’t want to turn it over. It works best when it’s layered.”

For information about making your own compost, including specific recipes, e-mail Cannon at motherearth@att.net.

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