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Creating your own garden compost is about easy as it gets. You have all the materials you need in your garbage can, and in your yard. Not only is it free, but also helps reduce the amount of trash you throw away, and that gets put into land fills.
As you gain experience with gardening, I recommend you consider creating a compost pile. Compost is decayed organic matter that provided nutrients to plants; it is one of the organic gardener’s chief means of establishing a productive soil.
Nature engages in an eternal composting cycle as each year’s vegetative growth returns to the soil at the end of its life: trees drop their leaves and herbaceous plants die back. This spent plant material returns the goodness that went into creating them back to the earth to be used again and again.
If you break this cycle by planting a vegetable garden and then removing and eating the produce, you must find a way to add sufficient organic material back to your garden to keep it productive.
Non-organic gardeners will use chemical or synthetic fertilizers. Like synthetic vitamins, these fertilizers will provide some nutrients, but not in the optimum form or balance for the plants. And these fertilizers will do nothing to feed and condition the soil, which is really the ultimate benefit of organic compost.
So, here’s how to do it right.
The organic gardener has many options for composting at home. The first consideration is the location of the compost pile. Choose a place that is in partial to full shade, with full exposure to rain and circulating air, and good drainage. Usually a corner of the property or behind a structure such as a garage provides an adequate spot.
Depending on your location, amount of space available, propinquity of neighbors, their pets, and wildlife population, you may opt for an open, unstructured pile, or a covered container that is, at least theoretically, animal-proof. Many containers are available on the market, but while they may be adequate for the waste from your kitchen, they do not accommodate large quantities of plant material.
Simple homemade, open-topped box-like structures bounded by wood frames and wire mesh work very well and are inexpensive to build. Two or three can be constructed together so that fresh material can be added to subsequent bins as the first bins are filled, letting the first piles break down into fully decomposed compost.
With more than one box you can be filling one with new material, while another is in the process of breaking down, and you are using fully composted material from the third.
There are three basic requirements for creating a successful compost pile. The pile needs to retain the heat it generates, must receive enough air circulation to keep the process going, and enough moisture for soil organisms to thrive while not so wet that a putrefying mess results instead of crumbly, fragrant humus (decayed vegetable or animal matter)
You can use any scrap vegetative material in the compost pile—this is a wonderful way to keep kitchen scraps out of the landfill and instead turn them into gold for your home garden, for example.
Everything except meat scraps can go into the compost pile—eggshells, cheese rinds, and moldy dairy products actually activate and feed the organisms necessary for “culturing” your compost pile, but they may be attractive to wildlife such as skunks and raccoons as well. You can decide whether this is a tolerable tradeoff or not in your location.
Tea leaves, tea sachets, and coffee grounds are a terrific addition—red worms and earthworms love them all and will happily come to work for you in your compost heap if you regularly add these.
Everything you weed from your lawn and garden can go into the compost pile—but you may want to let things like quack grass (Agropyron repens) fully dry out in the sun first so that you do not inadvertently introduce this pernicious weed back into your garden later.
A certain amount of dry leaves from trees can be added, but be sure to keep those layers thin, or mix them well throughout your compost. They need moisture and material higher in nitrogen to break down well. Be sure to spread out fresh grass clippings as well, since they are so moist they can become compacted into a nasty slimy mass if you fail to distribute them in the pile well.
Other good candidates for the compost heap include non-woody stalks, the leavings from your harvest of the vegetable garden, small amounts of wood shavings (avoid large amounts of saw dust or chipped bark and twigs), old straw or hay—in thin layers—cow, sheep, or other ruminant manure, already composted, and occasional small additions of poultry manure.
A caution: Do not ever use dog or cat manure or litter!
Regularly turning the material in your compost heap, or rotating the material along in successive bins, will hasten the process of decomposition, and also ensures that all layers are breaking down at the same time. Using this method you may have usable compost in as little as ten weeks or so. Alternatively, you can leave the material from one year as is, and then turn it early the next spring once or twice and plan to have ready compost by planting time.
Well-rotted compost is a delightful product: crumbly with a moist, very pleasant earthy aroma. This valuable material can be spread anywhere you need it—from vegetable and fruit beds to your foundation plants and around trees. Regular application of this compost will keep soil organisms happy and prolific, with a diversity of nutrients in the soil to ultimately feed all plant life.
No wonder gardeners refer to it as black gold!
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