“Composting Is a Win-Win”


This year the winter snow storms caused lots of damage by breaking and tearing branches from many of my landscape shrubs and trees.

So, most of my April has been pruning off, trying to repair injured plants and cleaning up my flower beds. Pruning makes them healthier and able to repair themselves for this year’s growing season.

That’s why I am so happy I have a compost pile; one, to have great organic material to add in planting holes to help new plants get a boost for growing, and second, to have a place to put my pruned pieces and other old plant debris. I am recycling this compost article to try to convince new “composters” that it’s a win-win situation.

Compost, a rich, dark, dirt-like by-product of decayed organic matter, should be considered a flower or vegetable gardener’s best friend. It improves and conditions the soil, acts as a fertilizer and increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture.

Since it is derived from decomposed plant materials, it contains not only the vital major elements, but also many of the minor elements that are needed for healthy plant growth.

Composting is a feasible alternative for disposing of refuse and it is an easy and inexpensive process.

First, consider the type of composter or holding frame that is suitable for your garden size and your needs. Compost bins range from simple construction–using wire fence and iron stakes–to a more permanent structure using concrete blocks.

It is made with a series of layers, but neither sequence nor proportion of the layers is rigid. Start the compost pile with an inch layer of plant material, for example, leaves, grass, weeds, straw, corn stalks (coarse plants should be cut into pieces about eight-inches long), or some other organic material. Be sure to spread the first layer over the entire bottom of the bin.

Over this, sprinkle approximately one pint of 10-10-10 commercial fertilizer, or if you prefer to use an organic fertilizer, scatter a couple of shovelfuls of dried manure. Add another five to ten-inch layer of organic matter to the pile. Add limestone, followed with a one to two-inch layer of soil.

Water is critical for decomposing, so wet each pile while layering. Repeat as many layers of plant materials, fertilizer, soil and limestone as needed to use up all available plant material. The top should have a concave center causing the water to move in rather than drain off.

Water the pile as necessary to maintain relatively high moisture content.

Air circulation is another requirement for a compost pile. Because the outer edges of a pile tend to dry out quicker, they should be turned inward toward the center. This practice also accelerates the decaying process as it increases air space.

The compost is ready to use when the material is crumbly and dark brown. The texture should be relatively uniform, but do not worry if there is a discriminate leaf or stalk.

Heat causes material to decay faster; therefore, the entire process may take approximately two months in the summer and much longer in the winter.

Again, I started composting a long time ago and always add a scoop or shovel full when I plant anything in my landscape and/or gardens. It is easy, and if you are bagging up your fallen leaves to send to the landfill, why not consider the environment by starting a compost pile to recycle those plant nutrients? For more information on composting, in Kent County call 302-730-4000 or 302-857-6426, and in Sussex County call 302-856-7303.

Master Gardener tip: The Kent Master Gardener Annual Scholarship Plant Sale will be held Saturday, April 24, 2010 from 8:00 AM to 12:00 Noon at the Research Greenhouse on the campus of Delaware State University at 1200 N. DuPont Highway in Dover, Delaware.