Now is a good time for composting

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This time of year many of us are cleaning up our yards, flower beds or gardens. Most of the trees have given up a season’s worth of leaves and flowers and vegetable crops have long died. Instead of piling it all up and burning it or sending it to the landfill, consider turning all of this presumed “waste” into a resource that can benefit next year’s flower bed or garden. Let’s turn it into compost.

One of the best things you can do for your garden is to add some of nature’s best fertilizer – compost. “Compost is one of the best mulches and soil amendments you can use. Among its best qualities is that it’s free,” said Andrew Pulte, a faculty member of the Plant Science Department at the University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. “Adding a steady diet of compost to your garden will help improve your soil fertility and stimulate a better root system in your garden plants,” Pulte added. “If you have clay type soil, compost will help loosen it up, if you have sandy soil, compost will help you with water retention.” It is well known that dark and rich soil is one of the best environments to grow plants.

Pulte says compost is a vital part of making your garden into a haven for growing things. Waste materials from your yard and kitchen scraps are the best sources of organic matter for your compost pile. Kitchen scraps in particular are typically high in nitrogen, which helps heat up the compost pile and speed up the composting process. The organic matter in compost provides food for soil microorganisms, which is a vital part of keeping soil in a balanced, healthy condition, so few if any amendments need to be added to your soil.

Pulte offers the following tips to help you get started composting:

1. Set up a compost bin in a discreet place in your yard. A bin will save space, quicken decomposition, and keep the yard looking neat. Many commercial bins are available; however, you can make one from a variety of materials.

2. Too much of any one composting material will slow down the decomposition process. If you have all grass, all leaves, or too much of any other single type of material, it can throw off the balance of the pile.

3. Avoid adding meat scraps and dog or cat manure to your compost.

4. Heat builds up with a big pile. Try not to get much bigger than about three feet by three feet.

5. Keep your compost aerated. If you are using a compost tumbling bin, tumble it when you add new materials. If you are using a pile method, turn it with a garden fork when you add new materials.

6. A compost pile needs moisture to keep the composting process active. Don’t let your pile dry out.

7. Just as too dry is bad, too wet is also something that you should avoid. Make sure your compost pile doesn’t get so wet that it’s soggy and stinks.

8. Compost is ready when it is dark brown, crumbles in your hand, and is fairly earthy smelling. Mix compost into your flower and vegetable beds. Work one to two inches of compost into the top three to five inches of soil.

9. If your compost pile’s performance is less then you expected, check your moisture level and give it a good turn to encourage decomposition. Additionally, although normally not needed, commercial products are available that adds beneficial microbes to your pile and can help speed things up.

Hopefully, these tips will encourage you to try something new that may benefit your flower beds or garden. More information about composting is available at the UT Extension Marshall County Office located at 230 College Street Suite 160 in Lewisburg.