Erin Doman on August 26, 2015 1 Comment Backyard composting has gained a lot of popularity among families in recent years. This is great news for our gardens, as composting provides valuable nutrients to our soil at little or no cost, and is a much more environmentally friendly solution for boosting plant growth than fertilizers. However, some people feel the list of things that can and cannot go into a compost pile can be a little complicated. Afraid of breaking the bacterial rules, they may be wary about even getting started on the composting trail. Fortunately, with a few rules of thumb, it can be easy to become a composting master. For example, did you know beer and wine are excellent additions to your heap? Here are some ways homeowners can combine wine and garden for a beneficial outcome. Science of the Heap The basic science involved in developing a healthy compost pile is not too complicated. To create your own compost pile, first start with a pile of organic materials such as yard debris, straw, leaves or food scraps. Newspaper or shredded junk mail can be another valuable addition. The actual work of creating the compost will be done primarily by naturally occurring bacteria, fungi, worms and insects that are present in decomposing materials. There are two other key parts of a successful composting effort: water and aeration. When you add things to the heap, you want to make sure you don’t compact the material too much, or the bacteria won’t be able to get the air they need to survive. The heap likely will need a periodic sprinkling of water to help the microbes do their thing. Expect to turn the pile every so often to add beneficial air and to prevent too much heat building up in the compost. Heat is a natural result of the decomposition process, so you will need to keep the compost moving to cool it down a bit. Worms are helpful in temperature control because their tunnels and movements help naturally aerate the heap. 1. Great Compost Activators So how do wine, beer and gardening collide? As it turns out, both wine and beer are excellent additions to a compost heap. If you host frequent dinner parties that might yield leftover beverages, it is better to add the remnants to the compost heap rather than throw extras down the drain. Homebrew sessions are another great source of beer solids that can added to compost heaps. The yeast in both beverages gives a major boost to the decomposition of your organic materials. Particularly for wood products, yeast is a powerhouse that breaks down lignin like no other natural organism can. The nitrogen in wine is ideal for breaking down carbon-based materials such as most of the yard debris in the waste pile. 2. Accelerate the Process Some people like to jump-start the decomposition process by using beer and other liquids as an accelerant for starting or speeding along a heap. Here is one recipe for such a booster: Clean and rinse a 5 gallon bucket that is not contaminated with harmful chemicals. Pour roughly 6 ounces of beer into the bucket. Add a half-cup of ammonia to the beer in order to provide the yeast with valuable nitrogen for its work. Add two gallons of warm water combined with a can of regular soda pop into the bucket. The soda will supply the microbes with tasty sugar to fuel the decomposition process. Once you have the tonic assembled and mixed, you may pour it over your compost pile. If this makes the dry material too wet, be sure to add some extra shredded newspapers or grass clippings to bring the moisture level back where it should be. You don’t have to use the whole bucket at once–feel free to set the bucket aside and use the rest later. 3. Replaces Water Managing the moisture levels of the working compost heap is an important part of keeping it healthy. If it’s too dry, the bacteria will die for lack of water. If it is too wet, they won’t be able to get any air to do their job. Adding leftover wine or beer to the heap is an environmentally friendly way to moisten the compost without using valuable (and often times restricted) water resources to do it. Plus, it includes more nitrogen and yeast than regular water does, which will speed the material breakdown along. 4. Encourages Dry Materials Saving extra wine and beer to use in composting will also encourage you to interact with your pile and increase its size by adding organic material. Smaller pieces of saw dust, cardboard and plant trimmings can be added liberally during the busy summer months as long as you’ve got some old beer and wine ready to add to the pile. Remember not to go overboard, though. A wet pile is an anaerobic pile, which means that no decomposition action can take place. 5. Plentiful Supply Of course, summer and fall are the seasons you will likely be doing a lot of your gardening. You are sure to be glad to have a large supply of rich, organic compost at hand to add to your soil. Particularly in parts of the country where soil quality is less than ideal to support plant growth, compost may be the difference between having sad shrubs in your yard and having a healthy lawn and landscape plants. With such a surplus of nutrient-packed compost, you might want to consider sharing some with your neighbors. You could even work out a trade so that they supply you with fresh beer or wine to drink while you turn your pile on a warm summer day. Adding a composting pile to your backyard can be a great way to create useful, organic and free soil amendments to support the health of the grass and plants surrounding your home. Though they can take a little getting used to, compost heaps are very accepting of all types of organic waste, not the least of which might be your flat beer or stale wine. The yeast and nitrogen in those liquids can be just the powerhouses you need to kick start your successful composting pile. By using these resources to combine these beverages with your garden, you can save valuable water, create an ideal decomposition environment and eventually reap the rewards.