Composting for Vegetable Gardens

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Perhaps you've been wondering why so many vegetable gardeners have compost piles. The short answer is that it's downright sensible. Compost is a bountiful and free source of organic matter, which vegetables adore and consume like crazy. To have it always handy when you need it is unbeatable. Compost is a pile of organic waste that breaks down into rich, dark, crumbly material that jubilant gardeners call black gold! It's an excellent way to add humus to your garden, and it also acts as a natural, slow-release fertilizer. You also get to feel virtuous and efficient because you're not sending perfectly useful materials away with the household garbage.

Store-bought compost, bag for bag, may not strike you as terribly expensive, but it really starts to add up when you're starting or caring for a vegetable garden. You're better off making your own. And hey, it's easy.

Okay, here's the short course on creating compost for your vegetable garden. If you have need of mountains of compost or get really into composting, you can try out some more-sophisticated methods and rigs. For now, though, follow these steps:

1. Pick a good spot.

The location should be level and out of the way of foot traffic but not far from your vegetable garden. A sunny spot is better than a shady one, because warm sunshine helps the pile warm up so the contents break down faster.

2. Erect on this spot a cage, square or circular.

The cage needs to measure at least 3 by 3 feet to be effective. Commercially available bins of tough black plastic with a lid on top and hatch in the bottom ("Darth Vader" bins) are this size, or you can make your own out of chicken wire, concrete blocks, wooden pallets, lumber, or even piled-up hay bales.

3. Create a base.

Set or scoop in a layer (several inches to a foot thick) of thin branches, chopped-up corn stalks, or something along those lines.

4. Layer away!

A proper compost pile, if viewed in cutaway, resembles a layer cake. Each layer should be a few inches thick. Alternate green (grass clippings, young pulled weeds) and brown (ground dried leaves, shredded bark) layers. In other words, organic material that is softer (green) will decompose more quickly.

Smaller or shredded bits break down faster than big chunks. If you're adding dry stuff, soak the pile with the hose or a watering can right after adding to moisten it. (See the upcoming list of acceptable and unacceptable materials.)

5. Check on your pile and turn it every few days or whenever you add more material.

A good mix heats up to between 100 and 120 degrees — on warm summer days, you may see the pile steaming. Turn it (with a stick, shovel, or pitchfork, whatever works) to keep it working. Your compost is ready to use when it fails to heat up again after turning. See Chapter 4 for more information.

Here's what should go into a vegetable compost pile:

1 Coffee grounds and tea leaves (even tea bags; just remove the staple) 1 Crushed eggshells 1 Corncobs (chop or grind them up first) 1 Vegetable and fruit peelings and leftovers 1 Shredded leaves

1 Shredded newspaper (just the black-and-white pages) 1 Straw (not hay — it contains weed seeds) 1 Prunings from your yard (chopped small) 1 Lawn clippings

's what shouldn't go into a vegetable compost pile:

Big chunks of yard debris Plants that are diseased or full of insect pests Weeds

Plant debris that's been treated with weed killer or pesticides

Any meat product (bones, grease, and fat included)

Fruit pits and seeds (they don't break down well and attract rodents)

Cat, dog, or other pet waste (which may contain meat products or parasites)

When in doubt as to what should and shouldn't go into your compost pile for your vegetable garden, you can set up a rule for yourself. It isn't foolproof, but it can definitely give you peace of mind: Remember that the veggie plants soak up the materials that come out of the compost. If you wouldn't put it or part of it in your mouth, then don't put it on your compost pile!

If your compost pile seems to be breaking down too slowly, you can add these jumpstart materials in moderation to boost things a bit: commercially available compost booster (beneficial microorganisms), bloodmeal, bone-meal, cottonseed meal, or dried manure (from vegetarian animals only).

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Essential Guide to Organic Gardening

Essential Guide to Organic Gardening

By gardening organically, the dependence on chemicals is removed. By eliminating chemicals used in regular gardening, your vegetables will be healthier because they will get the nutrients by natural means. Unlike traditional gardening; organic gardening will help to prevent potentially harmful toxins from entering your body. Lastly, it is much more environmentally friendly.

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