Composting to improve your soil

I became a Chisago County Master Gardener in 1994, and soon after I began writing articles in the local papers. Other Master Gardeners also write articles and Luella Greene, a former member, wrote an article on composting in 2008. Luella gave me permission to use her article as a reference for this one. I have seen Luella’s garden and the way she composts, and there is none better.

There are a variety of methods and containers used in composting. Compost happens naturally, so we might as well take advantage of its benefits. Some methods take more time than others. Leaving the grass clippings on the lawn is probably the easiest method of composting. If you do pick up the grass clippings, they can be put around plants or between the rows along with leaves, straw, and weeds that have been pulled.  This type of composting will serve as a mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.

A serious long-range plan for composting could take four to nine months to form. You can use a variety of materials such as chicken wire, wood, cinder blocks, or just make a pile, layering the material.

You need both green wet (nitrogen) and brown dry (carbon materials).  Examples of green are food wastes, especially fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, green leaves, hair, blood meal, ad bone meal. Brown or carbon materials include dry leaves, paper (including newspaper), cardboard, straw, sawdust, and small twigs.

For backyard composting, we use only dead plant material for food waste that comes from plants. One exception is manure from animals that are herbivores. A cow is a good example, and although chickens are omnivores, chicken waste is good, too. Do not compost dairy products, meat, fats, pet litter, barbecue ashes, diseased plants, human wastes, or chemically treated wood.

For composting to occur, organic materials need air, water, and food. The pile should be like a sponge but not soggy. Mixing or turning to bring materials from the outside of the pile into the center will raise the temperature. The temperature increases because the mixing or turning to bring materials from the outside of the pile into the center will raise the temperature.  Finished compost has a sweet, earthy smell. Compost particles are dark and crumbly and when you work it back into your garden you will have rich and healthy soil.

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