How Does Compost Work?

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What is Compost?

  • Compost is dinner for your garden. Just as people need food for energy, so does garden soil. Frequent planting uses up nutrients that plants need to grow well, and soil becomes hard and airless. The best way to enrich and nourish your garden soil is to add compost. When plants die, their nutrients go back into the soil to feed other plants. Making compost accelerates that process, to help your plants grow well every year. When you dig in compost you are feeding and improving your soil.

Making Compost

  • You will find making compost is very easy. Pick a small patch of your yard that's not easily seen from the rest of the yard, probably a place where nothing grows all that well. A "patch" can be as small as 4 feet by 4 feet.
    Unlike a hungry human family, plants love leftovers: dead leaves; grass cuttings; the peelings and seeds from fruits and vegetables; old egg shells; coffee grounds; and wilted flowers all make good compost. But do not put cooked food, meat or any other proteins in your compost; they draw rodents and they smell awful.
    The leaves, grass and kitchen-waste make especially good compost if you mix them together, water them from time to time and let them sit till they decompose. Let them decompose long enough and you will find that what they have turned into is dirt. Healthy nourishing dirt that you dig into your garden before you put in your new spring plants. That's compost.

Making Compost Better

  • Once you're started it's hard to stop. Here are some things you can do to make even better compost:
    Look at the different kinds of containers you can buy for making compost. Some are just bins that keep your compost pile from spreading all over the yard. Some have several trays for different stages of compost and vents to let in rain water. You can buy tools to aerate your compost pile, mixing everything together and exposing it to the open air. If you are getting serious about making your own compost, it's worth seeing what can help you do it more easily.
    You will find microbes you can add, and many composters get interested in worms as well. And, of course, there are the people who swear by half a cup of sugar. Try out different things to see what works best for you.

Why Go to All This Work?

  • First, look at the work you are saving. You don't have to bag up all your fall leaves for the sanitation department to pick up. No more bagging up grass clippings. And, when your fruit and vegetable peels and pits go into the compost, you'll make fewer trips to the garbage can.
    You're saving money, too. Fewer yard-trash and garbage bags. Fewer pre-cut and prepared fruits and vegetables--when you have a compost heap, your refuse is worth something. Fewer yard chemicals mean saving money, too--you're making fertilizer, and your healthy plants need fewer pesticides.
    Using fewer chemicals saves something else, too. You contribute less fertilizer-runoff when it rains, and you expose your children and pets to fewer chemical side effects. Especially if you like to grow some of your summer vegetables, it's great to know they are lower in chemicals and healthier to eat.
    You save something else when you make compost--wear-and-tear on you. A bunch of little chores add up to a better garden, and the way a compost pile works is mostly by sitting there. Spray it with the hose every now and then, turn it once in a while, but mostly you get to sit down, relax a little, and enjoy your yard while the compost does the work.

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