Turn a shovel of Kansas soil and you can find anything from red clay to sand. But there’s an easy way to enrich that soil and help your garden and landscape plants grow. Compost.
What is compost?
Compost is a useful form of dark, crumbly, decomposed organic material such as fallen leaves, grass clippings and vegetable scraps. Many of the minerals found in compost are valuable plant nutrients that enrich the soil and promote plant growth.
Composting can save time and money. It’s faster than bagging grass and hauling trash and cheaper than buying chemical fertilizer. It will help your garden grow. And it’ll make you feel good to help the environment.
What to compost?
- Grass clippings and fallen leaves
- Flowers and Weeds
- Old plants and potting soil
- Twigs, wood chips and sawdust
- Vegetable and fruit scraps
- Bread and grains
- Coffee filters, grounds, tea bags
- Egg shells and nut shells
What NOT to compost?
- Meat, fish and dairy products
- Cooking oil or oily foods
- Insect-infested plants, or plants susceptible to disease
- Weeds that spread by runners, such as morning glory,
- bind-weed or Bermuda grass
- Pet feces
- Large branches
- Pressure-treated, painted or preserved lumber
When will the compost be ready?
Like fine wine, robust cheese and some people, compost can improve with age. However, the stability of the compost depends on the rate of decomposition; that, in turn, depends on a variety of factors, including nutrient balance, mixing, moisture and aeration. Holding bins will produce compost in 6 months to 2 years. Turning bins creates usable compost in a shorter period of time.
Everyone can take part
If you don’t have an outdoor garden, you can still use compost, mixing it with potting soil to strengthen houseplants and planter box gardens. And, even if you aren’t able to start a compost pile of your own, you can support the environment by using compost instead of chemical fertilizers. Your purchase helps stimulate the market and promote recycling and resource recovery.
The benefits are clear…
Clear water. Clear skies. Composting is a simple way to improve the environment.
- Using compost rather than chemical fertilizers reduces nitrogen runoff and protects waterways.
- Compost conserves water by loosening clay soils and binding sandy soils.
- Composting eliminates air pollution and fire hazards associated with burning yard wastes.
- Compost stimulates plant growth while protecting the landscape against weather extremes.
By creating a healthier soil ecosystem, compost does more than help your garden grow. It enhances the soil food chain and supports wildlife that depends on that food chain for sustenance.
How do you get started?
Simple. Stop bagging your grass. Stop hauling loads of leaves to the curb. Instead, build or buy a compost bin for your backyard and dump yard waste in the bin.
The compost area should be level, out-of-the-way and accessible. Your bin should be big enough to hold a pile 3 to 5 feet across and 3 to 5 feet high. Make sure you chop or shred coarse or stringy materials. Alternate brown and green materials. Moisten each layer with water, leaving a slight depression in the middle. Place kitchen scraps deep within the pile to avoid attracting animals and flies. Turn the material periodically.
Feel the heat!
A compost pile with a proper carbon to nitrogen ratio will burn your hand — about 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
What is compost used for?
It’s a great alternative for commercial mulch. Instead of buying wood chips or other mulches, you can spread compost over the soil. Like any good mulch, it will conserve water, reduce weeds and keep soil temperatures from becoming too hot or too cold.
But you want your garden to smell good?
No problem. Compost has an earthy smell, not a bad odor. If your compost pile smells bad, it’s a sign the compost isn’t getting enough air. Turn it over.