Most gardens need amendments added to the soil to be fertile enough to sustain healthy plant growth. These amendments are available at your local home improvement store and some hardware stores, but a cheaper alternative can be to make compost.
It’s been said that compost is nature’s way of making rich soil, but this is really not true. While the end result is the same, the processes involved in true composting are rarely found in nature. A good garden compost pile can produce nutrient rich soil at a much faster rate than it would be produced in nature.
Composting is the process of converting plant matter to soil. This is accomplished by earthworms and other arthropods, but the bulk of the work is done by bacteria. Some bacteria (aerobic) require air to grow, which others (anaerobic) do not. The bacteria in a garden compost pile are usually aerobic since they generally work faster.
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Begin with placing a four inch thick layer of coarse organic material such as straw or small twigs in whatever container your compost pile will be contained in, or on the ground if no container will be used. In order to generate the heat and bacteria growth necessary to produce compost quickly, you’ll need a pile several feet in diameter. Add alternating layers of wet and dry ingredients. Wet ingredients are considered to be things like grass clippings and vegetable scraps from the kitchen — fresher and greener than the dry material. Dry ingredients include things like dead leaves and shredded newspaper (with organic print, and no glossy pages).
Several balances must be maintained for compost to develop quickly. The temperature must be warm in the center. This warmth is created by the bacteria, and sometimes gets so hot steam shoots out of the pile. If the pile cools in the center, the compost is ready there and should be turned.
The pile should be turned regularly to keep it well supplied with oxygen for the bacteria. Moisture must be kept up. The pile should be about as moist as a wrung out washcloth. A balance between carbon and nitrogen must be maintained. Carbon comes primarily from the dry ingredients and nitrogen comes primarily from the wet ingredients or fertilizer.
After your compost is complete, it can be a great substance for mulching around plants or for creating a rich substrate for a patio garden.