Compost More than Just a Fertilizer

Yeah, I also talk about compost in the fertilizer section, but compost is useful and necessary to your garden in so many ways other than as plain fertilizer. Because it's organically rich, with good texture, compost is just about the best thing you can add to soil. What works best really depends on the type and fertility of your native soil, but you can't go wrong digging in quite a lot of compost. Compost lightens heavy clay soil and gives needed substance to sandy soil. Less-extreme soils can still benefit.

In any event, half-compost and half-native soil isn't excessive. Some really keen vegetable gardeners forgo native soil altogether and use 100 percent compost to grow incredible crops. Using solely compost is most feasible in raised beds. Roots relish it. You can get healthier, happier plants.

Don't use soggy or overly dry compost. Compost should be fully decayed, dark in color and crumbly in texture. This issue is more significant with homemade compost than the bagged, store-bought sort. For homemade, you're fine if you take it from the bottom of the pile (most store-bought com-posters have a convenient hatch there). See Chapter 13 for info on how to make your own compost.

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Whether you're planting a new rose, a young perennial, a handful of bulbs, or a bunch of annuals, always dig a hole both deeper and wider than the root ball. This practice gives you an opportunity to make a great new home for the plant, an area the roots can eagerly expand into. Either scoop some compost into the bottom of the hole (where a lot of root growth should occur) or mix compost with the native soil (try a 50-50 mix).

Skip this step of mixing in organic matter for trees and shrubs. The latest studies show that trees and most shrubs do better in the long run if you keep the plants in native soil; in amended soil, they may not grow past the planting hole. However, if you plant them in native soil, they can easily grow beyond the planting hole. (Flip to Chapter 11 for info on trees and shrubs.)

In general, potted plants like a lighter medium. Go ahead and put a handful or two of compost in along with the potting soil, but don't be heavy-handed. Chapter 16 can fill you in on container gardening.

Quite a few gardeners make their own compost, a process that can take three months to a year to complete. Many gardeners also use a compost bin for this process, like the wooden one in Figure 4-1, though you can just pile the compost in an isolated and sectioned-off portion of your yard. Your compost pile should be kept slightly damp but not soggy. Stirring or turning the material every few weeks can speed up the decomposition process. When the compost is dark brown, is cool to the touch, and has a pleasant "earthy" smell, it's ready to use.

Figure 4-1:

Many gardeners find wooden compost bins attractive and easy to use.

Good material choices for mixing and making your own compost include oiUNG/

1 Chopped-up leaves (smaller pieces decompose more quickly) 1 Any young weeds that have not gone to seed i Old lettuce or other salad greens i Prunings from healthy plants

Don't compost weeds that have gone to seed, any diseased plants, or any plants that have been sprayed with herbicides. Also, animal fats or spoiled meat are not recommended and often attract rodents.

Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

Have you always wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn't know what to do? Here are the best tips on how to become a true and envied organic gardner.

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