Developing Good Soil

A soil in which vegetables can thrive generally contains solid matter and pore space in approximately equal measure. Moisture should occupy about half the pore space, air the other half. Most of the sold matter, about 43 to 45 percent of the entire soil makeup, should be mineral; the rest of the solid matter (5 to 7 percent of the soil composition) should be animal and vegetable organic material.

Most garden soils start out being either too sandy or too clayish. Sand has too much air, clay too little, and both lack organic material. When this deficiency is corrected by the addition of compost or similar material, the soil becomes a rich source of nutrients for plants.

Organic matter is composed of a number of elements, most particularly carbon and nitrogen. Bacteria in the soil use the nitrogen in breaking down the carbon. This bacterial action proceeds normally when the ratio of carbon to nitrogen is about ten to one. When the organic material is higher in carbon and lower in nitrogen, the bacteria 'borrow nitrogen from the soil, depriving the growing plants. A symptom of this is yellowing of leaves.

There are several ways to avoid this problem. For one thing, you can add nitrogen to the soil, perhaps in the form of manure, at the same time as you are adding nitrogen-poor organic matter. Or you can add organic material to the soil before you plant, so that any carbon/nitrogen imbalance will have been corrected by the time you're ready to plant Perhaps the best method of all—and the one used by millions of gardeners—is to make compost outside the soil, in a separate bin or pile. The organic material is then broken down before it is turned into the soil.


5. A compost pile also needs turning. Using a manure fork or a shovel, turn it so that the top and side


Organic waste that has been allowed—in some cases, encouraged—to decay is called compost When you put compost into your soil, your plants can immediately make use of the nutrients it contains.

There are a number of ways you can obtain compost You can make it yourself, in a large pile, in a bin or a can, or in a commercial unit manufactured for the purpose. In addition, ready-made compost can be purchased in sacks from nurseries and garden-supply stores.

Making your own compost is a fairly simple matter. First, every garden produces quite a bit of waste-leaves, decaying plants, weeds, hedge trimmings, and so on. Second, every kitchen produces suitable compost material, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, coffee grinds, and the like (but don't use meat, fat, bones, etc.). Instead of throwing away all of this garbage, tote it all to one corner of the yard, which you plan to devote to your compost pile.

There are several ways of constructing a compost pile or bin, just as there are various recipes favored by gardeners in different parts of the country. Before discussing them, we should consider the five basic principles of decomposition, the process of nature that is at the heart of composting:

  1. The smaller the particle size, the faster, generally speaking, the rate of decomposition, because bacteria can attack more surface area more quickly. If the leaves, stems and other materials are shredded into small pieces before being added to the compost pile, they'll decay quicker and be ready sooner.
  2. The bacteria in the pile need nitrogen. Too much organic material (carbon) in proportion to the available nitrogen will slow the bacteria and the speed of decomposition. Evidence of this will be poor heat production in the compost pile. You can correct this by adding nitrogen in the form of fresh manure or blood meal here and there throughout the pile.
  3. A compost pile must heat up for good bacterial action to occur. The degree of heat depends on the size of the pile. If the pile isn't high enough, it will lose heat and bacterial action will slow down. Too high a pile is also bad because it will then be compressed, shutting off too much of the air supply to the bacteria.
  4. Every pile needs moisture for decomposition to take place. A moisture content of 40 to 50 percent is about right; more than this cuts down on the oxygen available to the bacteria. You can keep your pile at about the right moisture level by making sure that it remains about as wet as a squeezed-out wet sponge. Just put your hand in the pile and feel (watch out, however, for it can be really hot—about 130 to 160 degrees F). If it doesn't seem moist enough, just add water with a hose until it reaches the right

Figure 3-01


Lack of moisture

This is the most common problem in starting and maintaining a compost pile. Piles tend to dry out during hot, sunny weather. Without adequate moisture microorganisms cease to function and decompostion stops. Add water whenever moisture is less than a squeezed-out sponge.

Unpleasant odors

When the pile has been overwatered and packed too tightly, oxygen is unable to penetrate and aerobic microbes are unable to function. Anaerobic micro organisms take over, causing unpleasant ferments tion odors. Do not "stomp down' materials when added. A working pile will shrink naturally from the addition of water and the activity of microorganisms. Compaction can also result from using all fine materials. Mix coarse materials with fine. A compost pile that develops an unpleasant odor should be turned over and aerated.


An overwatered pile will compact and not allow air to penetrate. This condition encourages anaerobic bacterial activity and fermentation odors.

Improperly activated pile

Microorganisms cause decomposition. If the pile is not properly activated with a broad spectrum of microbes, decomposition will be slow. If your pile doesn't seem to be decomposing, add a compost booster.


Small home compost piles freeze in winter and are slow to get started in the spring. Microbes become inactive below 40° F. In order to start up the pile faster in the spring, add one cup of sugar and mix into the pile by turning over the surface material.

Figure 3-02



Bio Organic Boosters Electric garden shredders Compost Maker Garden Green Manure Com posters Natural Plant Foods Organic Legume-Aid Organic Soil Conditioners Sea Weed Products




'See Figure 13.01, Chapter 13 for catalog names materials become the center. This allows air penetration and also brings raw matter to the center when more action is taking place.

When finished, or 'ripe', the materials placed in the compost pile will have been converted into a crumbly brown substance with the fragrance of good earth. It's then ready to use. The volume Of organic materials will have decreased. As decomposition proceeds, most piles shrink to about half their original size.

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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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