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 Yard and Garden » Composting 101

Composting 101


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Benefits Of Compost

Compost encourages beneficial organisms whose activities help plants grow strong and healthy. It provides nutrients and improves the soil, wet clay soils drain better and sandy soils hold more moisture when compost is addedt. A compost pile keeps organic matter handy for garden use and, as an added advantage, keeps the material from filling up overburdened landfills.

The compost pile is really a teeming microbial farm. Bacteria start the process of decaying organic matter, breaking down plant tissue. They are also the most numerous and effective composters. Fungi and protozoans soon join the bacteria and, somewhat later in the cycle, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and earthworms do their part.

How To Make Compost

Start with a layer of chopped leaves, grass clippings and kitchen waste like banana peels, eggshells, old lettuce leaves, apple cores, coffee grounds, and whatever else is available. Keep adding materials until you have a six-inch layer, then cover it with three to six inches of soil, manure, or finished compost.

Alternate layers of organic matter and layers of soil or manure until the pile is about three feet tall. A pile that is three feet tall by three feet square will generate enough heat during decomposition to sterilize the compost. A larger pile will not allow enough air to reach the microbs in the center. Your compost pile may benefit from an activator. Activators get the pile working, and speed the process. Alfalfa meal, barnyard manure, bonemeal, cottonseed meal, blood meal, and good rich compost from a finished pile are all good activators. Each time you add a layer to your pile, sprinkle on some activator and water well.

The more surface area the micro-organisms have to work on, the faster the materials will decompose. Chopping your garden wastes with a shovel, or running them through a shredding machine or lawn mower, will speed the composting process.

Using Compost

When your compost is ready, it can be mixed into the soil before planting or applied to the surface of the soil as a mulch. The longer it sits the fewer nutrients it will contain, so itís best to use it as soon as it is ready.

Compost Care

Keep the pile in a semi-shaded area to keep it from drying out too much. Make an indentation in the top to hold water and sprinkle with a garden hose when it appears dry. Keep it moist, but not wet. Beneficial organisms cannot survive in soggy conditions.

If your compost pile has a strong odor, try turning it more often. Odors are often caused by poor air circulation or a pile that is too tightly packed.

Compost Bins

Commercial models are available, or they can be built by yourself. There are links to several sites here, offering different styles.

What To Compost

Kitchen waste, lawn clippings (in thin layers) chopped leaves, shredded branches, disease free garden plants, shredded paper, weeds (before they go to seed), straw, hay, newspaper, tea leaves, and coffee grounds.

Pour any left over beer from a party on the compost it will speed up the process,


What Not To Compost

Meat scraps, excessive wood ashes, pet feces, sawdust (generally slows down decomposition).

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