Kent Gardener

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During the month of August, many of my garden plants are producing very little fruit or finished producing. Therefore, I am busy pulling them out and adding them to my compost pile. Then by next spring, the compost pile will have broken down and turned into great organic material that I will use with my spring plantings.

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.

As 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.

I started composting a long time ago and always add a scoop or shovel full when I plan anything in my landscape and/or gardens. It is easy, and if you are bagging up your yard and garden waste and/or grass clippings to send to the landfill, why not consider the environment by starting a compost pile to recycle those plants and 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.