I thought I would deviate from the usual format this week and talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I believe you cannot grow a successful garden without putting back into the soil what you take out. When you create your own compost heap you become part of something bigger. By the simple act of puttingtable scraps, yard clippings, fallen leaves, or anything of an organic nature into a compost pile you are giving back to the earth a present of life. It is the supreme environmental act as it saves this "trash" from a landfill where it will receive very little air and have very little time to decompose naturally. As much as three fourths of household garbage is organic and compostable. If everyone had their own compost heap, we could reduce landfill use tremendously and avoid burying nutrients and trace minerals too deep within the ground to be of any use to us. Think of your garden as an interconnected system. Just as in nature, all parts of the system have a place and play their role. Learning to work within this system and not against it, should be your goal. Think of the life cycle of a plant. It grows, produces its offspring and dies. Without someone to remove it, it rots and goes back into the soil. Leaves fall to the ground and rot and go back to feed the roots of the tree. In addition to fertilizing the soil this rotting material improve the soil structure by making it looser and easier for the roots to travel. It will hold water longer and allow spaces for air pockets. It feeds the worms and bacteria which leave their own gifts for your plants. It releases acids which make nutrients in thesoil more available to plants. It produces plants which are better able to resist insect and disease attacks. Believe me, bugs look for sick plants to feed on. Compost will correct whatever bad soil conditions you have. If your soil is too acid or too alkaline, compost will bring it to near neutral. If your soil is clay, compost will make is loose and friable. If your soil is sandy, compost will make it hold water. The organic material also contains disease curing antibiotics and enzymes that are integral part of biochemical reactions in healthy soil. In addition, it is a natural soil detoxifier. Studies show that plants grown in organically composted soils take up less lead, heavy metals and other urban pollutants. You can purchase this stuff commercially from garden centers, if you can't make your own, but it is a form of  recycling and when you do a lot of gardening you find you will have a lot of this stuff left at the end of the season, Why throw it a way when you can return it to the earth? Thereby completing the cycle. Usually compost piles are a combination of different materials. I have read a number of publications about this percentage of carbon or that percentage of nitrogen. But if you understand the basics you can produce this wonderful stuff without too much trouble.

1) Compost piles depend on decomposers like micro-organisms,worms, beetles and others to breakdown the material.

2)Yard and kitchen wastes provide the carbon and nitrogen that decomposers need. Carbon in leaves or woody wastes is an energy source. Nitrogen in manures provides raw proteins for creating more microbes.

3) The more surface area your material has the better. A shredder,lawn mower or kitchen blender will chop the waste before going in the pile

4) A large compost pile will heat better. Too large and it will not get enough air.

5)Keep the pile about as wet as a wrung out sponge.

6)Turn it a lot and it will "cook" faster. Be lazy like me and it will take longer.

I make my pile in layers of green stuff and brown stuff. Green stuff like leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste, sea weed, weeds, egg shells, and coffee grounds. Brown stuff is hay, nutshells, paper,sawdust, pine needles, cornstalks, straw from animal bedding. Use cow, horse or other barnyard animal manure, but don't use cat or dog doo. Every so often throw in a shovel full of dirt. Plain old garden soil contains all the micro-organisms your pile will need, unless you have over-used commercial fertilizer. Do not use plant materials that have pesticides on them. Don't put any fat or oil in your pile. Turn it about every two weeks and check it for moisture.

You can buy worms to put in it, but they usually show up on their own. Worm poop is the most perfect plant food you can get. They eat the compost, make holes that aerate the pile and they leave their castings. Worms love fruit rinds, tea bags, egg shells, coffee grounds and coffee filters, potato peels. Worms hate butter, cheese, fish, meat, food coated with oil. You can just throw all this stuff together in one corner of the yard and call it your compost pile or you can actually build a bin. A wooden frame with chicken wire would work or strawbales stacked on three side is just as good. You can buy or build a fancy barrel on a crank that lets you turn it easily or a barrel that you can just roll around on the ground to mix it. I went to a variety store and they gave me used wooden pallets that I made a three pile bin. I put stuff in the first bin and when that's full I move it to the second bin. When the first one is full again I move the two over and start a new pile in the number one bin. By the time that is full, the third bin is ready to go in the garden and this way I have a steady supply of compost. You'll know it's compost when it's appearance is crumbly and it smells like rich soil. A great indication is when your pile cools down. At this point you're ready to use the compost to benefit your garden. Compost is very versatile and you wont have to worry about burning plants or polluting water. Some plants such as squash and corn thrive on unfinished compost that still shows signs of organic material. But most prefer it when it is finished, having been aged long enough so that the decomposition process has stabilized. Compost is a great material to condition soil before planting vegetables. It is best to work it into the first foot of soil in a decent proportion, then complete by liberally working it into the top two or three inches of soil. Most plants, especially trees will benefit from using your compost to top dress the soil. Avoid using compost enriched soil to back fill in new transplanted trees that will be growing in poor soil as it will tend to make their roots bunch up around the mixture instead of seeking out nutrients deeper into the soil. If you have plants that will benefit from a quick dose of nutrients, you may want to try making "compost tea" to water them with. By taking an old pillow case, filling it with compost and putting the bag into a container filled with water, you can leave it there to steep for about a week, then use the resulting enriched liquid on your plants.


To keep gophers out of vegetable and other garden beds, excavate all soil to a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 feet before planting. Line the area completely with chicken wire, using  2 by 2s to stabilize the corners; then refill with soil.


Kids In The Garden: Cuke in a Coke Bottle It looks like magic, but your kids can grow cucumbers inside a bottle. Cucumbers are so productive and easy to grow that they're pretty much tailor-made for a child's garden. To add an interesting twist to cucumbers, try growing one in a bottle. Take a 1 liter plastic pop bottle and poke several ventilation holes in it. When tiny cucumbers are just starting to develop, gently insert them through the opening of the bottle. (Leave them attached to the vine, though!) Shade the bottle with some cucumber leaves so the small cukes won't cook from too much heat. You might have to try this with several cucumbers before you get one to grow to full size.


Make a solution of mint oil and rubbing alcohol, place in a spray bottle and spray yourself before any outings, the mint acts as a natural deterrent for most insects.



"An inspiring garden has many disguises, but its objective is always the same: To uplift your spirit and quench your creative soul."






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