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Composting 101: Let's Get Cooking

by Karen Lawson, All About Lawns Columnist

Compost provides an inexpensive way to fertilize ornamental and food producing plants. Composting can easily produce enough organic fertilizer for typical residential gardening needs.

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Compost Can Make Great Fertilizer

Fall is a great time to start composting, as fallen leaves, garden trimmings and grass clippings are all great ingredients for your composting "recipe." Once you've gathered a pile of compost material, you can dump it directly on the ground at the spot where you want to keep a compost heap. You may want to contain compost in chicken wire or other airy enclosure. You should not keep compost in an airtight container, as it needs to "breathe." Assemble your compost material this way:

Place a layer of coarse material such as branches and clippings from shrubs directly on the ground. This promotes aeration and facilitates introduction of microbial organisms that break down plant material. Add layers of finer material including grass clippings, leaves, and soil. Layering in steer manure or commercial chicken manure adds nitrogen to the mix. When using manure, keep it in the middle layers of your compost heap to reduce problems with odor and flies. When layering is complete, dampen the compost lightly, but don't soak it.

Keeping Your Compost Cooking

The deterioration of plant material in your compost heap generates heat in a process called cooking. Too much moisture can slow the cooking process and cause an unpleasant odor. If this happens, turn the compost over and don't dampen it until it dries out a bit. Turn your compost every couple of weeks, and cover it to protect it from rain or snow if needed. Move materials from the center of the heap outward, and move the outer layers toward the center. In a few months, you should have plenty of fertilizer for spring!



About the Author
Karen Lawson is a freelance writer with an avid interest in gardening and horticulture. She earned BA and MA degrees in English from the University of Nevada, Reno.



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