Ten Composting Tips

By National Gardening Association Editors

Gardeners love compost. Compost added to your garden soil improves its drainage, fertility, and structure. Recent research shows that compost also can inhibit plant diseases, help neutralize toxic chemicals in the soil, and reduce erosion. Quite a list of accomplishments for this ″black gold″ that anyone can produce in the backyard! Here are some tips to help make your composting a success.

  1. Add fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, along with grass clippings, fallen leaves, and garden debris to your compost bin or pile. But leave out any plant material that is obviously diseased or infested with insects, along with weeds that have set seed or the invasive roots of perennial weeds.
  2. Don't put meat, dairy products, grease, fats, oils, or bones in your compost pile. Dog or cat waste is also a no-no.
  3. Balance greens and browns. For the fastest composting try to mix approximately one part ″green″ material rich in nitrogen, such as food scraps , grass clippings, green plant debris, and hay, with three parts ″brown″ material rich in carbon, such as dry leaves, straw, sawdust, dried plant material, and pine needles.
  4. Pick a convenient spot for your composter or compost pile. You want it to be easy to bring material to your pile regularly all year round
  5. Keep your compost pile moist but not soggy. You'd like the material to be as damp as a wrung out sponge. Add a little water as you add material to your bin or pile.
  6. Chop materials for the quickest composting. Small pieces have more surface area for microorganisms to work on. A shredder is a great investment if you compost on a large scale, but you can also chop leaves with a lawn mower and cut up plant material with loppers or hedge clippers.
  7. Invest in a sturdy pitchfork for both adding material to your bin or pile, and turning the material regularly to keep it actively decomposing. A pair of thick gardening gloves will protect your hands as you work.
  8. Turn your pile or spin your compost tumbler regularly to accelerate the composting process by introducing air. This is also a good time to add a little more water if the material is dry.
  9. Compost is finished and ready to use when it looks like dark, crumbly soil and has a pleasant, earthy smell. You shouldn't be able to identify its original ingredients any longer.
  10. Make some leaf mold this fall. Even easier than making compost, but not for the impatient, leaf mold is made simply by piling fall leaves inside a corral of wire fencing. Shredding the leaves first and turning the pile every six months will speed the process some, but because fall leaves are low in nitrogen, decomposition will take place slowly over a period of six months to two years. Leaf mold is a great soil amendment, helping to increase water retention, improve soil structure and provide habitat for beneficial soil organisms. It also makes great mulch.

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