"Our Garden"

Compost To Improve Your Garden

When gardeners speak of a soil, they are referring to earth that looks, feels and smells pleasant. That means fertile soil, with good structure depending on the extent to which the inorganic soil particles; sand, silt, clay, and humus are bound together. No matter what kind of miserable soil you begin with, it can be transformed into the stuff great gardens are made of. Composting will start the process.

Compost is Nature recycled. It is the garden itself, in part, returning benefits in the form of humus as plants and other organic components decompose through microbial action. A compost pile, in fact, is teeming with microbial life as the beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa go to work in their natural cauldron. This process can take place slowly or in a matter of a few weeks, depending on the materials used, their relative sizes and quantities and how they are mixed together.

Compost is multifaceted but not intended as a fertilizer. It offers only a relatively low proportion of nutrients, yet what it does is close to magical. In its finished form as a mulch, it reduces evaporation, reduces or prevents weed growth, and insulates the soil from extreme temperature changes. A mulch also keeps the upper inches of the soil cooler in daytime, warmer at night.

Yet Compost has humble beginnings. Common, easily accessible materials destined to decay together in a pile will give your soil the gift of minerals and other components it needs. The materials are indeed numerous; lawn clippings, barnyard manure and kitchen garbage are among them.

Regardless of the particular ingredients, making compost is akin to making bread or beer; soil-digesting bacteria like yeast need warmth, moisture, air and something to feed on to keep them alive and growing. Almost all of the practical problems associated with making compost stem from too much or too little of those basic factors. The traditional method, referred to as fast or hot composting, produces a lot of compost in just a few weeks. Heat is the key element: a well-constructed compost pile can reach temperatures 160" to 170°· It also requires the proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 30-to-1 and periodic turning every 2 to 3 days over a span of 2 to 4 weeks.

There is also a slow (cold or passive) composting process which is simpler but takes longer. It won't challenge your knowledge of basic chemistry or pose a threat to your worms, relying more on time than heat. If you need only moderate amounts of compost, slow composting is ideal. It involves minimal work, .recycles kitchen and small garden wastes, and reduces the volume of outgoing trash.

Whatever the tempo, air is vital to any composting process. Without air (anaerobic) composting is possible but unpleasant with the putrescence of rotting material assaulting your nose. It is usually because there is too much nitrogen and too little air in the mixture.

If you have an 'abundance of trees on your property, autumn leaves can be plentiful and messy, but they are there for your use and can be easily gathered and stored in leaf bags.

In any case, you need not worry, as some people have, that the acidity of the leaves will sour the soil. Although leaves are acidic, they do not add enough acidity to significantly affect the soil. In particular, some gardeners question the use of oak leaves in compost because of their acidity, but they can definitely be used. The acidity they possess is more beneficial than not, especially for acid-loving plants. This is also true for needles and wood chips from coniferous trees, which are acidic. Tying up soil nitrogen , is a greater threat than acidifying the soil. About 100 pounds of leaves can be added to a garden of 1,000 square feet, with the soil having an organic content of about 2 to 3%, without locking up too much nitrogen. Timing is crucial. Your pile is fully composted when it fails to heat up after being turned. Then it is ready to use. And use it with a good feeling for it is your garden's natural fuel.

Remember your objective, the foundation of every successful garden, is to achieve healthy soil.