Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2009
Regional Report

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Landscape trimmings transforming into dark, crumbly compost.

Composting is Easy!

Garden beds containing nonnative flowers and vegetables need rich soil. You can purchase organic matter to incorporate into the garden, although making your own compost is satisfying and earth-friendly. Thirty to 40 percent of material trucked to landfills is "greenwaste" (grass clippings, dried leaves, plant trimmings, kitchen scraps). You can compost this organic matter easily on-site and reduce the burden on landfills, as well as all the energy and air pollution associated with transporting it there!

Compost Benefits
Compost improves soil structure, promoting better air and water penetration. In sandy soil, compost improves moisture retention; in clay soil, it enhances drainage. In all soil types, compost increases fertility and encourages the presence of nature's superior soil builders: earthworms.

Mix a Batch of Compost
All organic matter will eventually decompose if you pile it in a corner and let it work on its own time schedule. If you prefer a speedier approach, follow these guidelines:

-- Chop or shred all material. The smaller the pieces, the faster the decomposition.
-- Mix 1/3 nitrogen materials and 2/3 carbon materials.
-- Lightly hose everything as you mix so that it is moistened to the consistency of a damp sponge. Don't wait to hose down the completed pile from the top: water seeks a quick channel to the ground and most of the material won't get wet.

Nitrogen ("green") materials:
Fruit and vegetable peelings
Coffee grounds and tea bags
Grass clippings
Green foliage trimmings
Manure from barnyard animals (chicken, cow, goat, horse, rabbit)

Carbon ("brown") materials:
Woody plant trimmings
Shredded paper
Dry leaves

Don't add:
-- Weeds with seed heads or runners, such as Bermuda grass (can resprout in the garden)
-- Meat, bones, grease, oil or dairy products (become rancid and attract undesireables)
-- Waste from pigs, dogs, cats or birds (may contain pathogens transferable to humans)
-- Sawdust from pressure-treated wood

How Big?
A compost pile needs sufficient size to retain heat and moisture. It should be at least one cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet). Locate compost piles in the shade and cover with a tarp or plastic sheet to retain moisture.

Is it Compost Yet?
The more frequently you turn and rewet the pile, the faster it will decompose. Most composters who turn regularly, reap finished compost in about three months. If you start with a "good" system (small pieces, appropriate proportions of nitrogen and carbon, well-moistened) and then let it sit without turning, it takes about 6 to 12 months to obtain usable compost.

Compost is ready to add to your garden when it is a rich, dark brown, and crumbles easily. Layer 4 to 6 inches of compost on top of the bed and thoroughly dig in to a depth of 12 to 18 inches. To use compost as mulch for landscape plants, layer several inches around the base, taking care that it doesn't touch stems or trunks.

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