Composting In The Desert is Challenging – Not Impossible!

Nov 18, 2021 | Information

NMSU has phenomenal resources. To access that wealth of knowledge, use Quick Links. A search for information about composting popped up several documents and flyers, to guide the home gardener through the process. Closer to home is the Bernalillo County Master Composter group who also have information posted to the Quick Links page.

As we clean out our garden beds this time of year most of us have an abundance of material to compost that can be worked back in the soil next spring. To learn about Composting in Winter, click here.

Abundant sunshine, intense ultra-violet radiation levels, low humidity, frequent winds and limited precipitation combine to make both gardening and composting difficult in the desert. Controlling evaporation to keep the composting material damp is the biggest challenge in the desert and requires a unique approach.

BINS: Unlike most of the country, composting in NM needs bins that do not allow as much airflow. Bins made of wire or widely spaced boards need to be lined with plastic to keep the material moist. Commercial bins need to have some of the holes taped over. The top of the bin needs to be lightly covered with plastic or non-porous material such as cardboard or old rugs.

MATERIALS: Smaller size organic material composts faster. Mowing over leaves before adding that carbon layer will help them decompose quicker than a thick mat of leaves. Soak any dry organic materials in water to approximate 50% moisture. Mix in any nitrogenous materials and begin a 6” layer of this organic fill. Layer material to compost 6-8 inches thick and separate layers with a 6” bulking layer made up of pinecones, corn cobs, sticks that allow airflow.

WATER: Moisture level needs to be maintained at 50% level to continue evaporation and decomposition. Access to water to keep the pile damp is essential.