You get hungry; so do your plants. You prefer to chow down healthy, homemade fare; your plants prefer to get their nutrition (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) from organic, natural substances. Fortunately, you won't need to quit your day job to make time to whip up homemade plant food called compost; you just layer it up, add water and then let it "cook" on its own.
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Chef's Special: Compost
Compost is chicken soup for the leafy soul. Made from decomposed kitchen and garden detritus, it's free, easy to make and the best homemade food for your plants. Fully decomposed compost looks like rich earth and contains humus for your soil and both macro- and micro-nutrients for your plants. Like that chicken soup, it turns out a little different each go-round, but is always healthy and nourishing for both vegetable and flower gardens.
The recipe for compost depends on what you have in your kitchen. To get started, you need about one part of green matter and one part of brown matter. Mix the materials well, add water and leave in a backyard corner or compost bin to decompose. Green matter doesn't have to be literally green; it can include vegetable peelings, rotting fruit, recent grass clippings, eggshells and coffee grounds. Brown matter is dried plant products, like hay, dried leaves or dry grass clippings. Leave out meat products to keep away rodents and the neighbor's dog, and no diseased plant parts, please. Turn the pile thoroughly every two weeks and water well in the absence of rain.
You'll know your compost is "cooked" when you can no longer distinguish separate products and the entire pile is a dark, rich, dirt-like substance. Work at least 3 inches of compost into your garden and plant beds so that the nutrients are within the reach of eager roots. Alternatively, spread that 3 inches of compost across the top of the soil and leave it there as mulch. It holds moisture in the soil, regulates the soil temperature and holds down weeds, but eventually disintegrates into the soil, enriching it and making it fertile. Using compost is an organic, balanced way to feed plants that allows them to access the nutrients they need naturally.
Variation on a Theme
Try a variation on the compost theme to give your plants some variety. Compost animal manure for a nutrient-packed meal for your garden. All manure contains some of the three major plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Chicken manure, for example, is 1.8 percent nitrogen, 2.7 percent phosphorus and 1.5 percent potassium. The numbers are small but the beneficial impact powerful. Cow, horse or pig manure is also nutrient rich. Simply use the manure for the "green" part of your compost pile. Manure heats up the compost and causes the pile to decompose faster. Fully composted, manure provides food for your plants and organic fiber for your soil.