Composting

Just think of all the waste that is generated in a household on any given day. A large part of this waste can be turned into humus, a nutrient rich addition to your garden. By composting not only do you wind up with fabulously rich soil with an improved texture, you also make a contribution to our environment. During the composting phase organic material decays and produces organic fertilizer. And that is good stuff for your plants!

What materials can you recycle?

Garden or kitchen refuse, such as grass clippings, branches, flowers, plant cuttings, weeds (it is best to avoid weeds that have gone to seed or are pervasive), fruit, vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags; small amounts of paper products can also be composted (e.g. paper towels, black and white newsprint, cardboard if broken into small pieces, paper products should be thoroughly soaked before you add them to your compost), hair or nail clippings, and I am sure you can come up with many more items.

Materials you want to avoid:

anything treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers, deceased plant materials, dog or cat feces, dairy products, meat, bones, oil, fats, vinegar, household cleaners, and  of course any toxic materials.

Now to the How-To:

if you have the space in your garden you can build a nice compost heap. Any shady, well drained spot will do, but since you will add to the compost heap on a regular basis you may consider the location for ease of access. While a remote corner of your garden may seem an ideal place, you might not be so eager to trudge out there on a rainy day or in mid winter.

Place the materials on the pile in loose layers, the layers allow the air to circulate and thus stimulate the process of decay. Start with a base layer of woodsy material, then try to alternate a layer of kitchen refuse or green garden clippings with the woodsy stuff. A chipper does an excellent job of breaking down the tougher cuttings or branches. Sprinkle some water on each layer (rain water is ideal for this), and continue until your mulch pile is about 1 meter (3 feet or so) high. Sprinkle some humus or garden soil over each layer. You may also want to spread a little compost starter (commercially available in most garden centers) on each layer as you build your compost heap to start things going.  Make the final layer out of grass clippings, this acts as insulation to keep the generated heat in and cold air out. You might want to gently poke into the pile with a pitch fork once in a while to make sure air can circulate, some people also turn the entire pile periodically. I tend to build up the compost heap and other than sprinkling it with water in very hot weather to ensure it doesn’t dry out I leave it to do its magic by its own.

No room in the garden for a compost heap? If you have a black trash bag and a sunny spot you are in business. Simply place the composting materials in the bag, add some soil, tie the bag and place it in the sun. You should have good humus in a short time because the black bag retains heat well.

Then spread the humus around your plants to give them that extra boost.

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