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Gardening tips: The Helpful Gardener promotes sustainable gardening that is safe for the local environment. Read all of our articles about Organic Gardening and start improving your garden today!

Organic Compost: The Easy Way!

Compost is a combination of organic matter and/or manure, which has decomposed until it resembles a rich soil. Compost is not gross, rotten, smelly or dirty. Compost is a beautiful, nutritious food for your plants and the key to a healthy organic garden.

In addition to being a great provider of nutrients, a well-done compost is able to hold water in the soil, thereby ensuring that plants are adequately watered. It is also one of the best soil amendments to assist in efficient drainage, which helps prevent rot and nutrient depletion typical of poorer soils. Furthermore, many of the components of compost actually bind to toxic chemicals, so that they do not enter into the plant through its roots.

Compost can be purchased at the store or nursery or made easily at home. Compost is made from things that would otherwise be thrown away. While making compost may seem daunting, just remember that compost makes itself! Compost is always being created, it always has and always will. There is a passive and active way to make compost and many stages in between.

Compost: The answer to your gardening problems?
Adding compost to your garden or lawn can provide it with all of the Nitrogen, Potassium and Sulfur, and almost all of the Phosphorus that it needs. Along with these very important three ingredients, compost is filled with hundreds of other essential vitamins, nutrients, micronutrients and minerals including iron, zinc, iodine, cobalt, boron, copper, manganese and molybdenum. These ingredients are essential for the growth and survival of the organic plants you are growing.

Nearly all soil structure problems you may have can be solved by adding compost. Compost aids drainage, stores water well, allows for airflow and encourages earthworms and other helpful organisms and microorganisms. While compost may be just about the perfect consistency for successful growth, it still must be mixed with soil within your garden.

How to apply compost
To gain all of the benefits of compost, only a small amount is needed. Spread compost over your entire garden in a layer that is two to three inches thick. Do this only once, at the beginning of the planting season. Be sure to cover your beds with mulch in the winter to retain nutrients.
Just as all of our daily-required nutrients can be found in the right combination and variety of foods; so can plant nutrients be found in the same place! Compost made up of our kitchen scraps and yard waste is filled with vitamins and minerals! Just the kind that a healthy garden needs to grow and thrive. Just think of compost as a great big salad for your garden.

Decaying matter is the raw material of new life. In an untouched forest, fallen leaves and debris provide the nutrients needed for the growth of the living trees in a perfect cycle of life. Bacteria and other living things in the soil break down the dead matter and convert it into food for the new plants.

There are two ways to go about composting, an active way and a passive way. Merely throwing your kitchen scraps into a pile in your yard and covering them with hay is a compost pile, though you may not see results for almost a year. An active compost pile requires a little bit more work.

Active compost pile
An active compost pile means building a simple container; usually a three-sided wooden box. Be sure to balance the nitrogen and carbon-containing materials that you add to your compost pile; you can find helpful charts for this in most organic gardening manuals. Keep your compost pile moist and turn often. The hotter your compost pile gets, the more likely it is to kill off diseases and unwanted weed seeds.

A successful compost heap contains a proper ratio of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Some of the best materials to put into a compost include composted dairy manure, composted chicken manure, worm castings, bat guano, kelp meal and ground oyster shells. Also, kitchen scraps are generally nitrogen-rich and hay, straw, bark and black and white newspaper articles are examples of carbon-rich materials needed to balance the nitrogen levels. These are often referred to as the “green” and “brown” ingredients in a healthy compost heap.

It’s important to remember, though, that a long list of popular plant food products actually derive their nitrogen content from petroleum. Not only is that gross, but it’s far from organic.

While almost any waste can ultimately be composted, some things should not go into your garden compost. It may seem obvious to many gardeners, but we it’s worth mentioning that cat, dog and human feces are big no-no’s in composting. That’s because they may contain unfavorable bacteria, which you do not want spread into your garden.

In addition, bones and meat are unfavorable as they will attract raccoons and rats, dairy and high-oil content wastes will take a very long time to compost and metal, rubber, glass and plastic may take decades to biodegrade! It is also important that you avoid adding pest or disease-ridden material to your compost as this will spread to the healthy plants in your garden.

Animal manure (provided it’s not from cats or dogs) can be added to your compost as a means for activating the decaying process. Fresh, rather than rotted manure is best for this as it still contains the necessary living bacteria. Also, manure can raise the temperature of the compost pile, thus helping to activate the existing bacteria and further speeding the decomposition process.

You will know your compost is ready to use when it is soil-like, odor free, moist (but not wet) and dark. Now it is time to add it to your garden. Only a little is needed, but it will make a world of difference. Compost not only adds nutrients to your garden, but aids with drainage, nutrient and water retention and disease prevention!

With just a little work you will have an endless supply of compost and fully-renewing, mineral rich soil year after year for a successful and healthy organic garden!

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