Compost

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With all the environmental concerns about garbage disposal, composting in your own back yard is more important than ever. The compost heap can be a positive step toward recycling Mother Nature's bounty and improving your garden. It is simple. fall leaves, cut grass, and kitchen vegetable scraps recycled in your garden will improve the texture and nutritional content, and encourage earthworms and beneficial bacteria. Compost breaks down into humus, which reduces the need for fertilizer and water.

Composting can be as simple as a pile of grass cuttings behind the garage or as elaborate as a purchased composter that is attractive enough to sit by the back door. The principle behind composting is to pile the material high, reducing the amount of surface exposed to slow down evaporation. The pile must stay moist to encourage a

This compost starter bin is easy to make from four 4-foot posts, set in a rectangle, wrapped in chicken wire. If the chicken wire is secured loosely on the fourth side, the bin can be opened easily for removal of compost or for working the compost pile.

plentiful supply of the organisms breaking down the material into rich, garden-ready humus.

Compost is the remains of semidecaved plants. It is the best and cheapest source of organic matter. You can now make compost in your back yard faster and with less mess than Nature can, and the product will be as good or better.

The most important material in a compost pile is not the grass clippings and so forth that are thrown on it, but the millions of microorganisms that must be encouraged to operate in it. Given sufficient levels of moisture, air, and nitrogen, the energy created by these microorganisms will produce heat. Microorganisms decompose the raw materials, resulting in finished compost. Heat is a by-product of the process.

Begin building a compost pile by alternating several layers of vegetable matter with shallow layers of soil. A good-sized pile would be 4 or 5 feet wide and as long as you wish, with a height from 3 to 7 feet. A sprinkle of ground limestone will keep the compost more neutral.

This compost starter bin is easy to make from four 4-foot posts, set in a rectangle, wrapped in chicken wire. If the chicken wire is secured loosely on the fourth side, the bin can be opened easily for removal of compost or for working the compost pile.

Materials to use in your compost: Provided they have not been treated or exposed to chemical weedkillers.

Tree leaves

Peal moss

Crass clippings

Nonwoody mulches

Weeds (free of seed)

Straw

Corn cobs

Kitchen or table scraps (uncooked vegetable only)

Animal manures (excluding those of carnivores)

Plant trimmings

Vegetable trimmings (beet and turnip tops, pea vines)

Materials not to use in

your compost:

Stories, bones Woody branches

Cooked foods, raw meat, or Jish that would draw flies and rodents

Tomato vines (don't readily decompose)

Diseased plants

Animal fats, oily products

Seed-laden tops of weeds

Purslane, crabgrass or lambs-quarters (persistent weeds)

The top of the pile should be slightly concave to catch rain. Do not pack the compost material down.

Turning the compost exposes the particles to the air and helps speed up the process of decomposition. This should be done once or twice a month, when the temperature in the center of the pile reaches approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It isn't really necessary to use a thermometer, because as you turn the compost you will feel the heat as it is released from the pile. Use a pitchfork, turning the outside of the pile to the inside. If the material is dry, sprinkle it with water after turning.

"Curing" takes place as soon as an adequate amount of material has been accumulated. The rate or speed of curing depends on whether the pile has been turned, what the air tem perature is. and how much nitrogen is available. If the compost pile has not begun to heat within a month or so, fertilizer or manure should be worked in.

It isn't necessary to cover a compost pile, but you may wish to do so to keep the material from blowing around, to hide the pile, or make it look neater, or to shelter it from too much water during long rainy spells.

Commercial activators can speed the curing process. They usually contain different strains of bacteria that decompose the compost material, in addition to enzymes, hormones, minerals, vitamins, and nitrogen to give the bacteria a boost. Many gardeners simply save some of the previous year's finished compost as "yeast"—about a couple of spadefuls—to add to the new batch, to be sprinkled through the new compost.

Thin seedling plants to the distance recommended in the planting guide and on the seed packet, removing the less vigorous plants. Without thinning, you risk stunting the growth of all the plants and ending up with leggy seedlings. Thinning is a nice opportunity to share seedlings with other gardeners,

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