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ASK THE EXPERTS

Compost for gardening

POSTED: November 25, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Composting is a practical and convenient way of recycling leaves, lawn clippings and trimmings from the landscape. 

  

It’s also an economical way of producing rich humus that can be added back to your soil.

  

Composting is not just a practice for farmers, rural residents, or serious gardeners. Anyone with a landscape can benefit both the environment and their landscape by composting.

  

Here are answers to some of the commonly asked questions about composting:

  

What is compost?

  

Compost is a rich dark humus, and end product of the natural decomposition of plant and plant products under controlled conditions.

  

What are the best materials for composting?

  

Almost any organic plant material can be used for composting, including grass clippings, leaves, flowers, annual weeds, twigs, chopped brush, old vegetable plants, straw and sawdust.  Avoid composting diseased plants, weeds with seeds, or invasive weeds like morning glory and nutsedge.  Kitchen peelings and coffee grounds can also be composted, but avoid adding table scraps because they may attract animals.

  

Where should I make a compost pile?

  

Locate the compost pile in an out-of-the-way place in the landscape, in full sun and on a well-drained site.

  

How big can I make the pile?

  

A minimum size would be 3’ by 3’ by 3.’  Large piles break down faster than smaller piles, but they are also more difficult to manage.

  

Do I have to build a frame to hold the compost?

  

Decomposition works best if some type of simple structure is used.  Any type of structure can be used, including welded wire, fencing, pallets or blocks.  Leave open spaces in the sides to allow good air circulation through the pile and the bottom open to the ground.

  

How do I construct the pile?

  

For best decomposition, it’s best to mix a variety of materials.  Most often piles are layered with whatever organic material is available at a given time.  The smaller the pieces of organic matter, the faster it will decompose.  Once a layer of organic matter is added, add a little garden soil or animal manure.  This adds fungi, bacteria, insects and worms to the pile and helps speed up the decomposition process.

  

How do I care for the pile?

  

Keep the pile moist, but not too wet.  To speed up the decomposition process and prevent odors, mix the pile once a month using a shovel or spading fork.

  

Does compost have a nutrient value?

  

Yes, compost slowly releases a small amount of plant nutrients, but it won’t substitute for fertilizer.  It should be used as a soil-building material instead of a fertilizer.

  

When is compost ready to use?

  

Compost is ready when it looks like rich crumbly earth and you can no longer recognize the original plant material.  Each time you mix the pile, some ready-to-use compost should be available.

  

How can compost be used?

  

Compost added to the soil before planting vegetables or trees, shrubs or flowers will improve soil structure and will help hold nutrients and water for use by plants.  It can also be used as a mulch on the soil surface, or as a potting soil for container plants.

  

Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.

 

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