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I have always had an affinity for the outdoors and nature, and with this comes an awareness of the need for sustaining the environment. This planet and its natural wonders have given me so much, and I have a hard time fathoming how people would want to harm it.

I believe people might not realize how simple it can be to make their homes, especially their backyards, sustainable pieces of land. I am always recycling the paper and plastic products we use at home, and I try to bring my own bags to the grocery store.

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Until recently, I thought I was doing all that I could do at home to increase sustainability. After joining the FAST — Facilities and Sustainability Team — group at my work, it was brought to my intention that making some changes outdoors, in addition to what I was doing inside my home, could have a tremendous benefit for my family and the environment.

One suggestion that was made to the committee members by a FAST director was to try composting. Composting is an easy and cost-effective way to provide nutrient-rich fertilizer to your garden, while reducing the amount of garbage you dispose of. According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences website, "the average U.S. household generates 650 pounds of compostable materials each year." It also says more than 60 percent of the materials in our landfills could be recycled through composting.

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Composting can also save you money. You will have less trash for pickup and will also be able to use the compost as fertilizer for your plants and garden instead of purchasing it. Compost as a fertilizer is healthy and natural and can provide chemical-free nutrients to your garden.

After doing some research, I was surprised at how many different waste items in your home can be used for compost. In order to have your compost "cook" so it is adequately decomposed, it is important to add both "browns" and "greens" to the pile, according to http://www.wikihow.com/Compost. "Browns" are high in carbon and include ashes, bark, corn stalks, fruit waste, leaves, shredded newspaper, pine needles, sawdust and vegetable stalks. As the website states, the "brown" items act as the "fiber" of your composted material. "Greens" are high in nitrogen, which activates the heating process and can include coffee grounds, food waste, garden waste, grass clippings, vegetable scraps and weeds, according to the website. You want to avoid weeds that have gone to seed because they can multiply in your pile. Meat products are not good for composting because they attract animals. It is also important not to add plants that have been treated with pesticides into your compost bin because they could contaminate the rest of the contents.

When adding these items to your compost pile, http://www.wikihow.com/Compost advises that people try layering the brown and green materials so that they come in contact with one another in order to expedite the "cooking" process. It also mentions the importance of putting a layer of the brown materials on the bottom of the pile so the bottom gets air. The proper layering ratio depends upon what materials you have.

Once you have layered your compost materials in the bin, it is also extremely important to "turn" your pile, according to the website. The compost needs air in order to decompose. Watering the compost frequently if it is not exposed to rain, or adding "green" materials can assist in decomposition as well, according to the website. Or, if the pile seems to wet, the website recommends the addition of more "brown" materials. Visit the previously mentioned website or http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost.html for more tips.

Deciding what kind of compost bin to buy or build and where to put it could take some research. Sometimes the pile of compost is not the most attractive lawn addition, so it might be a good idea to put it in an area near the back of your lawn. There are many types of bins to choose from for your compost. If you look online, there are many DIY sites that can provide instructions for building your own bin. These bins often have three sections so you can have compost in all stages of decomposition and aeration. You can also create an enclosed compost bin from a heavy-duty trash can, which is an inexpensive item. There are also commercially produced compost bins and tumblers. The tumblers are great because they are designed to be able to move, allowing you to turn the barrel often without mess.

For more tips on finding the right bin, visit http://getplants4less.com/blog/2012/01/19/buying-or-building-a-compost-bin/.

No matter which bin you choose, I am sure you will enjoy the benefits of composting — for your budget, your home gardening and the environment.

Kelly Scible is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached at kellyscible@gmail.com.

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