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Master Composters keep it simple

Master Composters Marilyn and Chris Carothers demonstrate how to assemble a compost pile.  (Susan Mulvihill)
Master Composters Marilyn and Chris Carothers demonstrate how to assemble a compost pile. (Susan Mulvihill)

Marilyn and Chris Carothers enjoy spreading the word about how easy it is to make compost.

These Spokane Valley residents know what they’re talking about because they became Master Composters last year.

“Most of us already have what it takes to compost right in our yards,” says Marilyn Carothers.

“There are basically two ways to compost: with fast, active piles or slow, passive piles. Whichever way you want to do it will work.”

She notes that while fast piles require more work – they need to be watered and turned on a weekly basis – they will produce quicker results.

“Slow piles take considerably less work,” she adds. “You can just pile up your yard waste and let nature take its course. All organic material will eventually break down.”

The main secret to successful composting is getting the proper mix of brown materials like dried leaves and green materials like grass clippings.

That mix is known as the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio but Marilyn Carothers knows how to keep it simple:

“Just remember that the word ‘green’ has two ‘e’s’ in it – so that’s your two parts green – and ‘brown’ has one ‘o’ in it, which represents one part of brown material.”

Examples of green materials, which are high in nitrogen, include grass clippings from an untreated lawn; kitchen scraps like vegetable peelings; coffee grounds; weeds that haven’t gone to seed; nondiseased plant material from the garden and fresh animal manure.

Brown materials are sources of carbon and include tree leaves, dry straw or hay, cornstalks, dried weeds, newspapers and shredded pine needles.

Materials that should never go into a compost pile include meats, oil, dairy products and dog or cat feces.

Another important secret to composting is giving it the right amount of moisture.

“When building a fast, active pile,” Marilyn Carothers advises, “you should water the materials as you place them in your compost bin. You need to add enough water so the materials are as wet as a wrung-out sponge.”

The Carothers received their training courtesy of the Master Composter program, which is sponsored by the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System. Education coordinator Ann Murphy oversees this volunteer program.

“We have a training session once a year,” she explains, “which begins in late March and ends with the compost fair held at Finch Arboretum for Arbor Day. Our trainees attend five weeknight classes and two Saturday workshops.”

There is no charge for the class, which is open to residents of Spokane County. The Solid Waste System provides books and a compost bin. Once trained, the volunteers agree to provide 40 hours of community outreach.

Marilyn Carothers knows learning to make your own compost is worth the effort and good for the environment.

“We are trying to recycle our own yard and kitchen waste and keep from adding to the national debt of heaping garbage piles at transfer stations,” she says. “Our own yards provide us with much material that can be reused and turned into splendid compost.”

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at Visit her blog at for more gardening information and tips.

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