Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
November, 2001
Regional Report

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Although theoretically possible, I would not recommend composting feathers at home.

Feathers in my Compost

Composting is a natural, easy process. You can make dandy compost by piling up whatever organic matter you have available and then waiting for it to rot. Eventually that material will shrink down to almost nothing leaving you with finished compost, the gardener's equivalent of the silver bullet. Well, maybe not that explosively dramatic, but once you start using compost, your garden will flourish like it never has before.

I usually compost fallen leaves, grass clippings, vegetable peelings, frosted annuals, pulled weeds, spoiled hay, used stable bedding, animal manures from non-meat eaters and so on. Manures are nitrogen rich (as are grass clippings and other fresh green materials) and will help the pile heat up and "cook" faster. Some things should not be composted: meat, fats or oils, cat or dog feces, and diseased plant materials. I now add feathers to the "no-no" list, but that's a personal bias.

Forget the Feathers

Knowing that just about any organic material can be composted, I recently added the feathers from a ruined eiderdown to my compost stockpile, forgetting that feathers are known for their loft. Up, up and away! Tiny feathers wafted all over the garden, the driveway, the road .... traffic was stopping and I was sneezing feathers. Not one of my brighter ideas.

Constructing the Pile

When you actually build your compost pile, aim for about one half carbon-rich material or "browns" such as fall leaves and nitrogen-rich "greens" for the other half. Too much carbon and the process takes forever, too many greens and the pile can turn smelly and slimy, so shoot for a mix. Ideally, shred the materials, mix them together, dampen them, and keep them aerated by turning or mixing up the pile periodically. During hot summer weather you should have finished compost in a few months. When the weather turns cold, though, the composting pretty much stops.

Knowing this, each year I stockpile the fallen leaves while they are plentiful and hoard ingredients for next summer. I fill an abandoned dog run with chopped leaves and a wire mesh cylinder holds spent annuals, assorted garden clippings, kitchen scraps, coffee grinds, egg shells, and whatever else I come across -- including, this year, a few feathers.

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