Make garden compost

By Sondra Crane
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One of the best ways to build healthy soil is with nature’s own fertilizer: compost
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Gardening doesn't start with the plants; it starts with the right type of soil. And the soil is even more important when you're starting an organic garden. Good soil is the backbone of all gardening: your soil's health determines your garden's health.

One of the best ways to build healthy soil is with nature's own fertilizer: compost. As odd as it seems, a pile of items from your garbage such as grass, leaves, twigs, coffee grounds, table scraps, banana peelings etc. will become the basis for your new and healthier garden. Instead of throwing these things away, you can begin gathering them in a compost bin outdoors or indoors in a closed container. The goal is to develop finished compost you can use for regular or organic gardening.

There are two general methods of composting. The first and simpler method is cold composting. Throw some things together in a leaf pile and wait for it to rot. This is fast and easy, especially if you have a very small garden and have very little time. The other method, hot composting, requires more careful measurement, and layering to ensure full growth potential for your garden.

Which ever method you choose, to make a rich compost pile, you'll need a well-balanced ratio of greens to browns . These are nicknames used to identify the category of matter you use for your compost pile. Greens are usually fresh plant or animal matter that provide plenty of nitrogen, moisture and protein. Browns are dead plants or other similar materials that are carbon-rich and dry. Browns add fluff to the pile to keep it from being so compact. Generally, you'll need to add more dry, dead stuff than fresh green matter to provide breathing room for the tiny microbes during the compost process.
  • Greens: Plant clippings such as grass or flowers (freshly cut), fruit or vegetable portions such as peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds, human hair, milk, wool, egg shells or manure.
  • Browns: Dead and dry plants or leaves, straw, pine needles, sawdust, twigs, wood, rice or shredded newspaper.
Do Not Use The Following Items
  • Diseased plants
  • Fast-growing weeds

  • Coal ashes
  • Treated lumber
  • Charcoal
  • Bones
  • Cheese
  • Meat
  • Pet waste
      As you begin to make garden compost, choose areas where you can collect matter for the pile in your kitchen or just outside the door until you have enough to add. Having a small covered bin that you can drop things into and empty every day or so will help you get in the habit of saving scraps instead of tossing them.

      When planning to use dead leaves and grass, pile them in one area while waiting for them to dry out. Chop your compost matter as small as possible to encourage faster composting. When layering your compost matter, be sure to spray the pile lightly with a hose every couple of layers to moisten, checking to make sure it is not too dry. Depending on the attention you give to the pile and what type of matter you use, it might take five weeks or more to build a healthy pile. Get the process moving faster by keeping the pile stirred and turned inside out every so often. This keeps the microbes busy and the moisture even throughout the pile.

      Your finished pile will only be about half the size of your original pile when it is ready, will look similar to dark soil, and can now be added to your organic garden. There are two ways to apply compost to your garden. You can mix it in with your soil, sand or clay to produce an organically fertile ground or spread the compost on top of the soil where you will plant allowing it to slowly work its way into the ground. Either way, you're introducing better chemical-free soil to the soil that's already there.

      For new plants or vegetables, mix the compost into the soil so it can start working right away. A ratio of 1:3 to 1:4 compost to your existing soil will works well. If planting trees, add about an inch of compost to the area a foot from the tree trunk to where the branches go out. Use around a 1/2-inch of compost for existing lawns, plants and gardens. Compost that is not quite finished can still be used as mulch. Use the compost as mulch around the plant, but not directly next to the stems. Keep some compost separate for a "sick" plant remedy. Mix the compost with equal parts of water and let it settle and pour this tea onto the root of a sick adult plant.

      Learning how to make garden compost is easy, but the results will be dramatic. Healthier plants, a beautiful lawn and a safer environment are all possible when you begin composting your own kitchen and garden waste.

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