Hint For Success

Spread a 3-inch layer of manure or compost. You can substitute chopped leaves, but try to include a little compost or manure. You'll need about half a cubic yard to cover 50 square feet.

Spread more newspaper [six to eight sheets thick) or cardboard, overlapping edges, to smother any weeds or^ **ds in the preceding layer. Cover with 2 to 3 inches ot wood chips, pine needles, or other attractive material fo improve appearance and hold newspaper in p.ace. bpnnwe water over this layer to help hold it in place. Now jus: s.t ^Qck and wait six months.

Sheet Composting in Existing Gardens

Many people are already sheet composting but don't realize it. Spreading a thick layer of chopped leaves, used straw mulch, or similar compostable material over your garden and turning it under is another form of sheet composting. You can rototill the material or turn it under by hand with a garden fork or shovel.

If you do this in fall, either leave the soil in large clods or spread a thin layer of chopped leaves over the soil to minimize erosion and leaching. The leaves will be converted into humus by spring. You don't even have to turn material under, if you don't mind waiting longer for it to break down.

Add a 6-inch layer of coarse material such as garden trimmings, wood shavings, straw, kitchen scraps, and chopped leaves. Try to use a mixture. Mix grass clippings or sawdust with other materials — or with each other — to keep either from forming a waterproof layer. You'll need a cubic yard to cover every 50 square feet. Try for 9 to 1 2 inches of total material on top of the smothering layer. Water well to soak all materials.

Pit or Trench Composting

The simplest way to compost, if you don't mind digging, is right in the soil. Dig a hole or trench in the ground, fill it with kitchen and/or garden trimmings, and cover with the removed soil. In a few months, even the most stubborn clay will be crumbly, easy to dig, and loaded with earthworms. Pit and trench composting don't give you compost to spread, but they work wonders on the soil in that spot.

Trench composting is perfect if you want to return kitchen and/or garden wastes to the soil but don't want to worry about carbon/nitrogen balance or turning piles. It s an excellent way to improve the soil for a new bed if you can plan six months ahead. As with sheet composting, if you eventually decide to double-dig or build raised beds, you'll have made the soil much easier to dig and improved its structure.

Pit composting is a good way to dispose of diseased plants. Use it in addition to a regular pile, if you don't want to worry about whether your pile gets hot enough to kill diseases. Just locate your pit away from the garden and cover diseased material immediately with several inches of soil. Here are several easy variations.

Master Gardening

Words to the Wise

Don't try to dig your trench the soil is bone dry Its hard work. Wait until soil is moist (spring or fall in most areas).

Don't dig your trench when the soil is wet. Use the squeeze t (page 10) to see if your soil is ready to dig.

Where the soil freezes, you'll need a waterproof container filled with dry sand or sawdust to cover kitchen scraps during winter. Spread soil over top in spring. 3

For o new small bed, make your trench the size of the desired bed. For beds larger than 2 feet by 4 feet, dig only about that size at one time; after filling the first trench, repeat until you've covered the entire area.

Remove sod and set aside. Dig out soil to about 1 ]/2 feet deep. Lay removed sod upside down in the bottom of the hole. Add plant debris, covering every new addition with some of the removed soil. If you odd 4 to 6 inches all at once, cover this thick layer with a couple of inches of soil. Once the trench is filled, spread any remaining soi over the top. Let it sit six months and you're ready to plant

secrete to great soil if you want to improve the soil in an area of voui garden, plan on keeping it out of cultiva-jion for a season. Dig one or a series of trenches, as described on page 78. Fill with any of the usual compos! materials and let sit until turning over a shovelful reveals finished compos!. You'll notice a tremendous difference the following growing season.

Year one. Dig trenches next to your garden beds, leaving a walking space. Simply pitch garden debris into the trenches, adding a thin layer of straw, dried grass clippings, or chopped leaves from time to time. Be sure to remove any weed seeds and infested or diseased plants first (bury them well away from your garden). Fill in the compost trenches with soil and organic matter and leave in place over the winter.

Trench Composting

plants compost walking space plants

Year two. Dig a new trench where your garden bed was the previous season. Allow organic matter in the old trench to decom Pose completely by using that space for a walking space.

ar three. Plant your new bed in the ^rnus-rich soil of year ones compost trench. lil ln '/ear two's compost trench for a walking 5pace ar*d begin composting in the old 99rden bed. You've now completed a full th^k °nc* can begin again from the top in e next season.

[A Midwestern study compa compost with stockpiled fe manure. Test plots using only o> post produced yields similar 10 those fertilized with four times volume of manure! The conir raised pH and levels of organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium more than could accounted for by the nutrient content of the compost The study ni c nd be:

concluded that compost must increase the availability of existing il nutrients while also supplying

Ismail additional amounts.

Using Your Compost

For use in potting soil, or to spread on (topdress) ¡owns in spring or tali, screen finished compost to remove large pieces. For most uses, ViHnch mesh is fine enough. Staple hardware cioth to a frame of 2 x 2 or 2 x 4 wood If you add legs to one s\6e of a large screen, you con toss shovelfuls against the screen to sift (either onto the ground or into a garden cart). Or size the frame to lay across the top of a cart oc plastic garbage con so that finished compost falls into the container.

Compost is superb as a soil-improving amendment, topdressing, and mulch. Finished compost can be used anywhere in the garden. To maximize its benefits, use finished compost within a few months. Like well-aged manure, though, even the oldest compost still improves soil.

Gardeners rarely have enough compost. Ideally, all beds (vegetable, perennial, shrub, even lawns and trees) should get an inch of compost every year. An inch is enough to provide fresh cultures of soil organisms and to maintain soil that's already in good shape. If you're trying to correct physical problems such as poor drainage or structure, or if your soil's very low in organic matter, you'll need to use even more. In warm, humid climates where organic matter breaks down very rapidly, try for 2 inches.

If you don't have enough compost to go around, concentrate on trouble spots — soil that has poor structure or drainage or is lacking in nutrients, and hot spots where diseases or pests are a problem. You can get away with half as much if you use green manures or maintain a constant cover of organic mulch.

Add a handful of finished compost to the bottom of each hole when transplanting small seedlings. Add a shovelful for larger plants and heavy feeders such as tomatoes, melons, and squash. Sprinkle finished compost into rows when planting seeds.

nil 11(1111 to GHAT soil

You can spread unfinished compost over the garden in foil It will finish breaking down by spring and may be left on the surface or tilled under. Avoid spreading unfinished compost around vegetables and flowers as a ropdressing. To use it as mulch on annual flowers or vegetables, spread a layer of finished compost underneath. You can use unfinished compost alone as a mulch for shrubs and trees.

Finished, screened compost is an excellent ingredient in soil mixes for houseplants and even for starting seedlings. (You don't have to sterilize it; unsterilized compost contains organisms that suppress ever-present damping-off fungi.) If the compost is newly made, use the test on page 61 to make sure its really finished. You may want to test commercial compost, too. It isn't necessarily finished by the time it reaches you. Unfinished compost can harm the germination and growth of many vegetable and flower seedlings.

Compost can be used as a foliar fertilizer in the form of compost tea (see page 1 29). This liquid form of impost can be sprayed on or poured over leaves, used to water houseplants. Compost tea is great ior giving plants a nutrient boost and controlling some diseases.

makino an d usino commit

makino an d usino commit

Compost Troubleshooter

Vnll ^ solve most iM "problems" simply by waiting. Most material will break down eventually, without any eft* part. If you don't want to wait a year or more for nature to take its course, follow the remedies below. T^

on your


Pile doesn't heat up, feels dry.


Pile doesn't heat up (or heats up only in center); feels moist.

Large pile doesn't heat up, feels moist.


Too dry

Not large enough

Not enough nitrogen


Add water until materials in center feel evenly moist; in dry climates, cover pile with tarp and water whenever it dries out

Make sure pile is 3 feet square (90 cm2) and at least 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, or wait for pile to undergo cold composting.

Add alfalfa meal, manure, fresh grass clippings, or other nitrogen (protein) source and turn pile.

Pile cools off before most material has decomposed.

Needs to be turned

Turn pile with garden fork, mixing material in center with outer or unde-composed material.

Pile smells bad, feels soggy or wet.

Too wet

Pile smells bad (like ammonia), feels moist, not soggy.

All material doesn't break down.

Matted layer doesn't break down.

Some pieces didn't break down.

Too much nitrogen or not enough air

Too dry or not enough nitrogen

Needs mixing

Pieces too large, too woody, or not biodegradable

Add shredded newspaper, straw, or other dry, carbon-rich material and turn pile; in wet climates, cover pile to keep off rain.

Add shredded newspaper, straw, or other carbon-rich material (plus water to dampen) and turn pile to aerate; use less nitrogen-rich material in future piles and turn more often.

For soil that is too dry, add water until materials in center feel evenly moist; in dry climates, cover pile with tarp and water whenever it dries out. For soils needing nitrogen, add alfalfa meal, manure, fresh grass clippings, or other nitrogen (protein) source and turn pile.

Turn pile, breaking up matted layer and mixing with other material.

Sift compost: in future, leave out whatever didn't break down, or chop into smaller pieces and add more nitrogen-rich material.


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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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