Bartow County Extension seminar to highlight composting benefits
by Marie Nesmith
Aug 04, 2013 | 2938 views | 0 0 comments | 75 75 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Waste Not, Want Not
Bartow County Master Gardeners Venia Etta McJunkin, from left, Karen Capito and Mona Lewis tend to the compost station at the Pettit Environmental Preserve. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
view slideshow (3 images)
In Venia Etta McJunkin’s kitchen, the garbage disposal is one of the most underused appliances.

Instead of discarding vegetative materials, the Bartow County Master Gardener eventually returns them to the soil, first utilizing them in a pair of composting sites. Along with maintaining a compost pile in her Cartersville yard, she also helps operate the Master Gardeners’ vermicompost project at the Pettit Environmental Preserve.

“I put my kitchen scraps, my lawn clippings, leaves and things like that in it. ... We put a lot of stuff in the garbage that the worms can eat. Even our newspapers, our junk mail, most anything can be composted. Of course, you don’t do your meat scraps for the worms,” McJunkin said, referring to the vermiculture compost project, where worms help recycle organic material into valuable soil amendment. “But what I do ... when I am going to be shucking corn, I put those corn shucks in [a plastic] bag, put the whole thing in the freezer [to use in] our vermiculture project for the Master Gardeners out at Pettit Preserve. Taking it all out there at one time is a good way [to add more materials].

“I never use my garbage disposal. There’s no need to. I feed [vegetable scraps] to the worms and that takes care of that. It keeps it out of the landfill. [Composting] is just so simple. If you want to put it in a pile in the corner of your property ... just put it there and forget it and then this time next year, you’ve got all of this good [material] to add to whatever you’re doing in your yard. So it just couldn’t be simpler. When I see where people are bagging their lawn clippings for the garbage man to carry off, I think, ‘What a waste.’”

On Tuesday, McJunkin will share her gardening knowledge with the public, leading a complimentary Composting and Vermiculture seminar with Bartow County Master Gardener President Jim Humphreys. Starting at 6:30 p.m., the hour class will meet at the Olin Tatum Agricultural Building’s Stiles Auditorium, 320 W. Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville. The first 15 individuals who register will be able to obtain a worm package for $20.

“I actually will be talking about how composting is more than worms,” Humphreys said. “A lot of folks look at composting as fertilizer and compost actually is not fertilizer. It’s a soil amendment. ... When you add compost to [regular soil], because you have put a bunch of vegetative material through a process, you’re actually introducing a bunch of little critters and bacteria and all kinds of little creepy-crawly things into the soil that actually makes it work better.

“A lot of folks think composting is hard. It’s actually not very hard. It’s just a matter of getting the critical mass of materials together to actually set a pile to cooking. ... We’re going to [discuss] worms too, vermicomposting. We think vermin when we think vermicomposting and it’s not vermin. Vermi is Latin for [worm], so it’s earthworm composting. And we’re going to demonstrate how to set up a real simple composting bin.”

As with the types of structures, items that can be placed in a compost pile are wide-ranging, although The University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences recommends using materials that have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1. A prime example is fruit waste, which sports a 35 to 1 ratio. Other materials that can be composted include leaves, straw, grass clippings, vegetable scraps, eggshells and coffee grounds.

According to, “Composting is the most practical and convenient way to handle your yard refuse because it is easier and cheaper than bagging or taking refuse to a dump site. Compost also improves your soil and the plants growing in it. Although in time uncomposted materials will eventually decompose, adding undecomposed materials directly to the soil without first composting may have some undesirable effects. For example, if large quantities of uncomposted leaves are incorporated into the soil, microbes will compete with plants’ roots for soil nitrogen during leaf decomposition. This competition for nitrogen can result in nitrogen deficiency and poor plant growth.

“Composting breaks down organic materials into an end product that increases the availability of essential minerals, such as potassium and phosphorous, to growing plants and reduces the competition for nitrogen. The addition of composted materials also improves soil physical properties, such as tilth, infiltration, drainage and water-holding capacity. Composted material is much easier to handle and mix with soil than uncomposted material. ... Decomposition of organic material in the compost pile depends on maintaining microbial activity. Any factor that slows or halts microbial growth also impedes the composting process. Efficient decomposition occurs if aeration, moisture, particle size, and nutrient levels (nitrogen) are maintained for optimum microbial activity.”

With materials taking up to a couple of months to decompose, Humphreys said he derives satisfaction from tending to his compost piles and understanding the science behind it.

“I [enjoy knowing] that I did it,” Humphreys said. “I know what goes into it. A lot of times, we don’t understand what goes into a process. So this has helped me understand what composting is. I put compost in my sweet potato patch last year and my sweet potatoes averaged about 15 pounds per potato. They were huge. The biggest one was 18 pounds, a lot of them were 14, 15 pounds and the smaller ones were 10 to 12 pounds. They were all huge.

“... Clay is a really good soil but it’s so fine that it compacts really easily and when you add compost to it, it just loosens up the clay and loosens all those nutrients that are naturally in clay. So we have a great soil. It’s just we can’t get the plants to penetrate that hard ... clay that we find in a lot of cases and the compost we add to it just breaks it up and you can turn it into really good soil, turn it into that crumbly, earthy smell that we like [to] think about. It helps [plants] grow. It helps roots spread. It helps with moisture retention and the worm castings that we get from vermicomposting, it does basically the same thing as the compost from the compost piles that we build. Like I said, it’s not a fertilizer. It’s just a soil enhancement. That’s probably the biggest point — it’s a soil enhancement.”

Tuesday’s class is the ninth offering in the 2013 Bartow Lawn & Garden Seminars, presented by the Bartow County Extension Office and Bartow County Master Gardeners. The series will conclude Nov. 16 with Holiday Wreath Making workshops for children and adults.

“We started the seminar series back in March,” Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese said. “This is the first time we’ve done sort of a whole series of seminars that kind of covers the gamut from vegetable gardening basics to landscaping basics, container gardening, lawn care, composting, which is coming up of course. The idea of all these is just to really give people some basic information on gardening and the resources that we have available through the local county Extension Office to assist those folks that are beginning or even old gardeners can learn a lot from what we provide as far as services, everything from soil testing to insect and disease diagnostics and troubleshooting weed problems.

“... We’ve been averaging 50, 60 people for the seminars. ... They’ve been very well-attended this year. We’ve been pleased with the attendance and that’s motivation that we need to continue this next year and into the future.”

Prior to attending the remaining seminars, those interested are urged to pre-register by calling the Bartow County Extension Office — 320 W. Cherokee Ave., Room 112, Cartersville — at 770-387-5142 or emailing

For more information, visit